If you haven’t heard or seen yet, you probably will soon: news media reports that bedsharing comes with a five times greater risk of SIDS, even if the mother is a breastfeeding non-smoker.
Don’t believe it folks.
And I’m not just saying that because I’m sympathetic to breastfeeding and bedsharing. There is what appears to me to be an organized, and very persistent campaign against bedsharing going on in the Western world. I don’t quite understand it. I think it might partly be well-intentioned, because bedsharing does definitely increase the risk of sudden infant death, but only in certain circumstances – particularly if the mother smokes (probably the father too, but they haven’t collected much data about paternal smoking) and particularly in the context of parental alcohol or drug use ( and most likely, intoxication, not just a glass of wine). I think that some of the anti-bed-sharing lobby thinks it’s too complicated to explain these things to parents, plus they think bedsharing is abnormal and unneccessary. (You know, these researchers slept alone in their cots as babies and they’re all fine… sort of thing. Yeah, exception for their scientific tunnel vision.) So, they think it’s best to simply tell all parents to never bedshare, completely ignoring the biological and social absurdity of telling mothers to breastfed and then warning them to never sleep with their babies. Breastfeeding causes bedsharing, pure and simple. Not always perhaps. but very often. It’s biologically inevitable.
Back to the study. Discombobulated, perhaps, by recent evidence that has clarified that the risks of bedsharing are limited , and that breastfeeding protects against SIDS (a finding which some SIDS researchers did not accept in the past, and apparently some still don’t) several authors teamed up to to rehash and respin some of their old data, much of which uses poor, outdated definitions of things like co-sleeping and breastfeeding. How do I know? I’ve seen the peer reviews for this article. Journal articles have to be reviewed by academic peers to ensure high standards of scholarship. I actually have personal experience of this with regard to the one journal article I co-authored. I was unimpressed. The biases of the two reviewers were obvious. That is not to demean all peer reviewers. I do have some faith in the process, and I will acknowledge that the peer reviewers’ questioning of our findings – which they really just didn’t think could possibly be true (specifically, that many mothers of nightwaking babies idon’t think their baby has a “sleep problem”) – led to improvements in our article. But just keep in mind that peer review is as imperfect and, at times, flawed as most human endeavours can be, even though it is often implied to be foolproof.
With respect to this article that supposedly found that bedsharing increased the risk of SIDS fivefold even if the mother didn’t smoke and did breastfeed, 3 of 4 reviewers did say it was excellent and made fairly cursory comments. One admitted to not being a statistical expert. But the dissenting, and more detailed review was from Peter Blair, who, IMO, is by far the best SIDS epidemiologist in the world. I’ve interviewed him several times, and he’s pretty much the only SIDS epidemiologist I would trust for the truth about risk factors. He thoroughly trashes the study. Here’s a link to the peer reviews (Blair’s is the second, and by far the most painstakingly detailed). The authors’ response is there too. See how scientific publishing works! http://m.bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/5/e002299.reviewer-comments.pdf
By the way, notice that the article, didn’t make it into the main British Medical Journal, only BMJ open, an online journal that authors actually have to pay a fee to get into.
Hmm. I wonder why.
Oh and here is another rebuttal by some academics (who, obviously were not invited to be peer reviewers) whose work I trust http://bit.ly/11Tc76g
But don’t believe the news headlines you’re going to see and hear over the next few days.
PS. (Added 3 weeks later). A reader recently challenged me to back up my assertions that there is an “anti-bedsharing lobby” and that some SIDS researchers have not wanted to accept that breastfeeding protects against SIDS. Fair enough.
Re: The so-called anti-bedsharing lobby. I think most people understand that I don’t mean that there is an organization (like the National Rifle Association or something) that campaigns against bedsharing. But there sure are a lot of researchers, health professionals and other advice-givers who are definitely against bed-sharing and who push their views quite aggressively. I also have the impression that they are talking to each other. For example, a number of years ago I had a conversation with a coroner and I asked, “What percentage of cases of overlying (parent rolling over onto a sleeping baby resulting in the baby’s death) that your office investigates are related to drugs and alcohol? ” “All of them,” he told me. Two years later this same coroner started saying that all bedsharing was always dangerous. Then I noticed a number of coroners were saying this. I think anti-bedsharing people had been talking to them, or sending them their studies. I can’t prove this of course. But it is a matter of public record (just go look it up) that lots of people are campaigning to persuade parents that bedsharing is dangerous, and a bad choice for parents. I’d call that a lobby.
Re: Breastfeeding and SIDS. I have been writing about paying attention to research about SIDS (and many other things related to parenting) for almost 20 years. Admittedly, after some recent higher quality studies have come out, there is now much more acceptance of the idea that breastfeeding is protective against SIDS. However, 10 or so years ago, there was much less acceptance and a lot of researchers and official bodies would not say that breastfeeding was protective because, they said, the research was inconclusive. That was largely because a lot of older studies (including some of the ones rehashed in the BMJ online article) had poor definitions of breastfeeding. They would lump a baby who was nursed for two weeks in with babies who were exclusively breastfed for 4 months or more. Bad science.
That’s why I think some of the older studies were inconclusive. So I stand by the statement that, in the past that some researchers did not want to accept that breastfeeding was protective against SIDS. However, I’ve changed the wording slightly to make my meaning clearer. And I would still say that the authors of the article I’m critical of don’t seem to want to accept it.