One-month-old Ben passed away in the night due to Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). His mother, Amanda Saucedo, had taken him out of his co-sleeper to change his diaper and breastfeed him. But soon after he latched on, she fell asleep. Her alarm clock woke her at 8 a.m. but Ben didn’t wake up. Although his cause of death was later found to be SIDS, the coroner ruled it as accidental asphyxiation because he was in bed with his mother. Ever since, Saucedo has opened up about her horrific experience to warn other parents about the dangers of co-sleeping.
“It is the worst story to tell.”
“His face was pale and his nostril was stuck halfway down,” Saucedo described the nightmarish moment she woke up next to her dead infant. “I sat up and I realized there was a pool of blood next to Ben. I thought to myself, ‘No. No. This isn’t happening!’ I picked up my little 30-day-old son, laid him on his back, and started to gently shake him saying, ‘Ben! Ben! Wake up! Wake up, Ben!’”
The detective interrogated her about the position she and Ben were in and if she’d consumed any drugs or alcohol. Saucedo was wracked with guilt and grief but she knew she didn’t roll on or smother Ben. Later on, she learned he had died from SIDS. “I was one of the unlucky mothers who got a coroner that refused to rule a death as SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) because of his sleeping conditions. Naturally, I was angry and consumed with guilt,” she said. “I call this my hell day. It is the worst story to tell. And it never seems to get easier.”
She started a non-profit in Ben’s memory called Benny Bears where she warns other parents about the risks involved with co-sleeping. “Many people tell me that if their babies were to die for no reason in their sleep, they would want their child next to them, instead of alone. I would also have to disagree there,” she said. “Never knowing if my baby would still be alive had he been sleeping alone is something I will take to the grave with me… But I would not wish this feeling of guilt and never knowing the answer on anyone.” 
The Benefits and Risks of Co-Sleeping
Despite doctors and health organizations advising against co-sleeping, many parents choose it for the sake of certain benefits. For one, it offers convenience. Bed-sharing keeps the baby close so the parents can quickly respond to the baby’s needs. It also makes breastfeeding easier while minimizing the parents’ loss of sleep. Additionally, parents instinctively want to stay close to their infants and believe the babies feel more secure sleeping close to them. Skin-to-skin contact can help calm infants and increase emotional bonds. Many cultures promote the practice. 
However, co-sleeping comes with many risks. Most people think of dangers such as accidentally rolling on top of the baby or accidentally covering the infant’s face with a pillow or blanket. But co-sleeping also increases the risk of SIDS. This risk increases if the baby is born premature, has a low birth weight, or is under four months old. It also increases if the bed-sharing parent smokes, drinks, takes drugs, and if the bed is soft and has bedding.
Here are the safe infant sleep guidelines according to the The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
- Infants should sleep on their backs on a flat surface without soft bedding.
- The flat surface should be a crib or bassinet; routine sleep should not take place in a sitting device like a car seat, infant slings, stroller, etc.
- The crib or bassinet should not have any bedding, blankets, or toys.
- They should be put to sleep on their backs. Babies can switch to another position on their own. However, if they can only roll one way, they should be put back on their back if they roll onto their stomachs.
“A baby’s death is tragic, heartbreaking and often preventable,” said Dr. Rachel Moon, lead author on the AAP’s safe sleep statement and technical report. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that simple is best: babies should always sleep in a crib or bassinet, on their back, without soft toys, pillows, blankets or other bedding.” 
“The vast majority” of deaths are preventable
A report from the CBC analyzed 476 recent infant deaths in Canada. At least 61% of these infants had died while bed-sharing, and 77% were sleeping on a surface not considered safe by health profesionals, such as an adult bed or a couch. Similarly, Statistics Canada in 2021 reported that over 90% of infants who died in their sleep from 2015 to 2020 were found in “an unsafe sleep environment.” And 53% of these cases were sharing a bed with one or more people. 
“There may be factors involved in a sudden and unexpected sleep-related infant death other than those discussed here, such as underlying genetic, metabolic or other biological factors,” the Statistics Canada study says. “In addition, the full circumstances surrounding infant sleep-related deaths is not always known, as the event is not often witnessed.” Similarly, Moon says she doesn’t think it’s possible to prevent every incident of SIDS because of these unknown components. But still, she says “the vast majority” of deaths are preventable.
Co-Sleeping or Bed-Sharing
Although bed-sharing is discouraged, the term is not completely synonymous with co-sleeping. In fact, co-sleeping could also refer to room-sharing, which is encouraged as a safe alternative to bed-sharing. It involves placing the crib or bassinet close to the parents’ bed. Data compiled by NPR in 2018 found that a low-risk baby (who has no risk factors like prematurity or medical conditions) has a 1 in 16,400 chance of experiencing SIDS while bed-sharing with a parent. But a baby sleeping in a crib in their parents’ room has a 1 in 46,000 chance of SIDS. 
“We know that many parents choose to share a bed with a child, for instance, perhaps to help with breastfeeding or because of a cultural preference or a belief that it is safe,” said Rebecca Carlin, MD, FAAP, who co-authored the AAP’s safe sleep recommendations update. “The evidence is clear that this significantly raises the risk of a baby’s injury or death, however, and for that reason AAP cannot support bed-sharing under any circumstances.” 
Nevertheless, many families still choose to bed-share with their infants. If that’s the case, here are some important safety precautions:
- Always lay the baby on their back to sleep.
- Don’t let the baby sleep alone in an adult bed.
- Don’t let them sleep on a soft surface, like a soft mattress or sofa. Ensure the bed is firm.
- Ensure the bed doesn’t have drapery or a headboard or footboard with a design that could ensnare the baby. Similarly, ensure the mattress fits properly in the bed frame.
- Remove pillows, blankets, and other items from the bed.
- The parent shouldn’t fall asleep with the baby on their chest.
- Avoid bed-sharing with infants with a high risk of SIDS, including those younger than 4 months old, premature babies, and those with a low birthweight.
- Bed-sharing parents should avoid smoking, alcohol, and drugs or medications that make them drowsy and less alert. 
- “Mum warns about dangers of co-sleeping after son’s tragic death.” Yahoo. Erica Rae Chong. December 15, 2016
- “The Truth About the Benefits and Risks of Co-Sleeping.” Parents. Maria Carter. November 11, 2022
- “Ohio mother charged in the second death of one of her infants. What is co-sleeping?” USA Today. Mike Snider. September 17, 2022
- “Unsafe sleep practices present in hundreds of infant deaths in Canada, CBC investigation finds.” CBC. Karissa Donkin. May 3, 2022
- “Is Sleeping With Your Baby As Dangerous As Doctors Say?” NPR. Michaeleen Doucleff. May 21, 2018
- “American Academy of Pediatrics Updates Safe Sleep Recommendations: Back is Best.” American Academy of Pediatrics. Lisa Black. June 21, 2022
- “Bed-Sharing.” Kids Health. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD. June 2022