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Study to test co-sleeping guidelines

The lack of guidelines for hospital midwives on the controversial practice of new mums co-sleeping with their babies is being investigated as part of a world-first study in Australia.

Many mums end up sleeping alongside their newborns, either deliberately or by accident, despite mixed findings on whether it is beneficial or potentially harmful for their babies.

But many hospital midwives receive little or no education about co-sleeping, so are unable to advise mums of the pros and cons before they head home with their newborns.

Queensland midwife Cassia Drever-Smith has begun a study on what information is available to hospital midwives in the hope a clear set of guidelines can be drawn up.

Drever-Smith, an honours student at The University of Queensland, believes most Australian hospitals do not have publicly available clinical guidelines on co-sleeping to guide midwives.

As a result, many end up using their own experiences and cultural norms to educate mums or not raise the issue at all, she said.

"My hypothesis is that with the advent of smaller families, late parturition (childbirth) and living away from relatives a lot of women's first experience is not based on advice from their mums, aunties and sisters but from midwives," she said.

"So we need to give women the tools they need about safe sleeping and that begins in the hospitals.

"But I don't think midwives are provided with that information to start with."

The practice tends to polarise parents and health professionals, with some arguing co-sleeping is too dangerous and the baby's life could be at risk.

Others argue there are many benefits to co-sleeping including increasing the bond between parent and baby.

Drever-Smith plans to do a search of the 304 Australian hospitals with maternity wards to find out what, if any, clinical practice guidelines they have on co-sleeping.

Her study, which is the first of its kind in the world, will also include an online survey of midwives to find out what they know about co-sleeping.

"There are a lot of polarised views and that's why we need current evidence-based information provided to all practitioners," she said.

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