A Victorian coroner’s recommendation that health authorities should warn all parents against the dangers of co-sleeping with their baby risks some mothers rejecting all health messages, says a leading midwifery researcher.
Following an inquiry into the SIDS related deaths of four babies after co-sleeping, Coroner John Olle found sharing a sleeping environment must not occur in the first six months of a child’s life and ideally not in the first year.
Olle said the investigation and current research led him to conclude that “sharing a sleep surface with an infant is an inherently dangerous activity”.
He recommended that the health and early childhood departments deliver consistent public health and health promotion information advising caregivers about the risk of infant death because of co-sleeping.
However, the director of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Mothers and Babies, Professor Sue Kruske, said such a blanket message could alienate women who have a cultural preference to co-sleep.
“Hearing that message from health professionals, which goes firmly against their beliefs, runs the risk of cutting some women off to all health messages,” Kruske said. The message women are hearing from the media is that co-sleeping is never OK because of Olle’s statement, she said.
But that goes against current evidence because the vast majority of co-sleeping deaths involve other environmental factors such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, she said. Olle acknowledged this in his findings. He found co-sleeping on a bed, sofa, mattress or armchair increased risks.
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