Parents charged in baby's death: Don't blame co-sleeping, blame the parents

Aug 13, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Moline Police Department

When a child dies in his parents' bed, the dangers of co-sleeping begin to surface in the media. But you know what? It's not always that simple, and all those who co-sleep are not putting their babies in grave danger.

An Illinois couple was charged in the death of their infant son, Anterio, after they found him unresponsive in their bed one morning. The medical examiner says the cause is "unexpected death in infancy with a history of co-sleeping," and thus begins the finger pointing at a couple who slept with their baby.

Only that isn't the whole story. It is also reported that they were intoxicated when they went to bed with their little boy, and one of them rolled on top of him during the night, resulting in his death. The police say that the parents were under the influence of alcohol and marijuana at the time.

So wait. Is this a co-sleeping death, or is this a "you're doing it wrong" death? It's definitely the latter. This tragedy could have been avoided if Mom and Dad had adhered to the rules of safe co-sleeping. Because they didn't, they lost their child.

Parents who are intoxicated when they sleep with their babies give the rest of us a bad name. Any time you search for safe co-sleeping tips, near the top of the list is, "Don't co-sleep with your baby if you've been drinking alcohol or taking drugs — even prescription painkillers." Co-sleeping works really, really well to get a parent and her baby through the night, but you have to have all of your senses about you if you sleep with your infant.

Other tips to keep in mind: Keep blankets and pillows away from baby, ensure the sleeping surface is firm (no pillowtops) and baby should sleep between mom and a bed that is flush against the wall, so baby doesn't roll off. Mothers and their breastfed babies actually make ideal bed sharing partners because they are so in tune with one another, they often don't wake up completely to feed, which makes the night so much smoother.

You may be told that co-sleeping is unsafe, but done properly, it is no less safe than an infant sleeping alone on his back in a crib. Children unfortunately die in cribs as well, even when there is nothing that should have upped their chances of SIDS, yet everyone recommends that babies sleep in cribs. Don't let data sway you — statistics on co-sleeping deaths don't always include information such as adult intoxication or even a parent sleeping on a couch with a baby (a huge no-no) that lets you draw the proper conclusions.

This baby died because his parents slept with him while they were intoxicated — not because they slept with him. They did it wrong, and their baby paid the price for it.

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