Science explains how co-sleeping protects against SIDS

SIDS can be frightening for new parents, but recent scientific research has shown that co-sleeping might actually protect against SIDS. Find out more about this fascinating update from the world's leading authority on co-sleeping, James McKenna, PhD.
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Science explains how co-sleeping protects against SIDS

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There is no firm explanation of what really happens to babies that die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. An increasing amount of time is being spent studying what is called "arousal deficiencies" in babies. It's been learned that, upon postmortem studies, the brains of babies that died of SIDS have fewer neurological sites that regulate breathing and, particularly, arousal. We know that all babies experience abnormal apneas or breathing pauses. Indeed, they all have what's called "periodic breathing." We think that some babies that die of SIDS, for whatever the reason, are not able to defend themselves against deeper stages of sleep from which they might need to arouse to terminate one of these breathing pauses. Bed sharing with breastfeeding, may counteract the opportunities for those babies to reach those deeper stages of sleep. Our studies in the laboratories show that bed sharing, breastfeeding babies spend significantly less time in the stages of deep sleep from which it is the most difficult for babies to arouse to terminate these life threatening apneas. The bed sharing, breastfeeding baby arouses more frequently, giving it practice in arousal mechanisms potentially. Indeed, the amount of breastfeeding and awakenings, being close to the mother, smelling her milk, actually contributes to the baby staying awake and spending that greater portion of it's night in those lighter stages of sleep.

SIDS can be frightening for new parents, but recent scientific research has shown that co-sleeping might actually protect against SIDS. Find out more about this fascinating update from the world's leading authority on co-sleeping, James McKenna, PhD.

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James McKenna, PhD

Anthropologist & Author

Professor James J. McKenna is recognized as the world’s leading authority on mother-infant co-sleeping, in relationship to breastfeeding and SIDS. In recognition of his work in 2009 he was admitted as a Fellow into the select body of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's most prestigious scientific society. That same year and in recognition of his extensive work with television, radio, and print media he received from the American Anthropological Association the “2008 Anthropology In The Media Award” one of the top three awards presented to anthropologists by the association in recognition of his distinguished work in educating the public to the importance of anthropological concepts. He received his undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1970, his Master's Degree from San Diego State University in 1972, and his PhD in biological anthropology from the University of Oregon, Eugene, in 1975. Professor McKenna has published over 139 refereed scientific articles in diverse medical and anthropological journals on co-sleeping, breastfeeding, evolutionary medicine and SIDS, and both here and abroad he gives over 20 lectures especially to pediatric groups and parents. Here in the United States he remains one of the primary spokesperson to the media on issues pertaining to sleeping arrangements, nighttime breast-feeding and SIDS prevention. He has also published two monographs on SIDS and infant sleep, and co-edited two books:  Evolutionary Medicine and Evolutionary Medicine And Health: New Perspectives. His first trade book for parents was published in 2008 entitled: Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parents Guide To Co-Sleeping, and was recently translated and available in Spanish and Dutch.

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