Unsafe Suggestions?

A commenter on Orthonomics, which linked to my post on frugal babies, posted this to me:

. . .some of the things you suggested in your blog are known to pose a health risk to your child and family, such as co-sleeping in the same bed (lowest SIDS risk is same room /different bed), or washing cloth diapers in a household washer without appropriate temperature/soap/rinse etc. Also, it is well know that chareidi mothers choose to breastfeed at a much lower rate when they are on the government programs such as WIC, which provides free formula but not free food for nursing mothers.

Let me go in reverse order here. Regarding mothers (charedi or otherwise) who don’t nurse in order to get free formula, it is my understanding that WIC does give breastfeeding mothers more food than those it gives formula-feeding mothers. There is a new proposal to provide additional benefits and support that will encourage low-income mothers on WIC to initiate and sustain breastfeeding. Read more about it here. It’s a delicate balance; we want to encourage breastfeeding but we don’t want babies to go hungry because poor mothers choose not to, or can’t, breastfeed.

Regarding “health risks” with cloth diapers: Do you have any proof to the assertion that washing diapers at home increases illness among babies? It’s not like they are going to eat off of them, and they are not sharing the diapers with anyone else. In fact, I use the same setting — 40 degrees Celsius– for both my dishwasher and my diapers. If that setting is safe for my dishes surely it’s okay for my diapers too? The reason I use a minimum of detergent is not only to save money. It’s better for my washing machine, and when urine gets on diapers that have not been well-rinsed they stink to high heaven. I washed mine in hot water every couple of months, without detergent. Sometimes I used a white vinegar rinse. But hot water is definitely not necessary for every washing. If you regularly use a full measure of detergent in your machine, take your clothes and wash them once without detergent. You might be surprised at how many suds they generate. And there have been many questions raised regarding the safety of chemicals used in disposables.

Finally, you are correct that the AAP’s task force on SIDS recommended that babies sleep in a separate bed in their parents’ room. I don’t feel bound by their recommendation. Where babies sleep is a lifestyle choice, just like breastfeeding. The task force only looked at SIDS risk and did not consult with the AAP’s breastfeeding task force or consider other risks. To make an informed decision parents need to look at the whole picture..

I don’t believe that it is wise for parents to follow any recommendations blindly, and I don’t imagine that even the most conscientious parents do. They certainly don’t all breastfeed for at least a year, another current AAP recommendation. What if the parents don’t have space for a crib in their room? Are they going to move to a bigger house, or sleep in the living room (assuming they have space there)? In my case my not having to get out of bed, my husband continuing to sleep, the security I feel I am giving to my baby, the fact that I respond to the baby before s/he cries, shorter feedings, more sleep, the pleasure of having the baby near me all night, and an increased period of infertility, are not enough to counter a possible increased risk of SIDS that is unlikely to be backed up by future studies. Babies have accidents while sleeping in cribs, they suffocate when their mothers doze off while nursing them on the sofa in the middle of the night, and they fall when a sleepy mother is returning a baby to the crib. They can die of SIDS on their back in a crib in their parents’ room. Life is fraught with risk, and it is all about balancing risks and benefits in a way that is right for an individual family.

At any rate, here are guidelines for safe co-sleeping.


  1. I love co-sleeping. I did it with my son and I am doing it with my daughter. I think it helps the kids feel more secure during the day to be away from mommy for a little while.

    When my baby is in the crib I worry all night if something will happen to her. When she is in my bed, I know that she is safe. I wake up with every cough.

  2. Soccer Dad says

    UP until about 15 years ago (give or take) it was considered unsafe to have a baby sleep on his/her back. Supposedly the SIDS rate is a lot lower for back sleeping babies. Or that just might be because, as my wife observes, they don’t sleep well on their backs.

    My wife mentioned that she heard (in Shul) someone telling a young mother that SIDS rates were lower for babies sleeping on their backs. She responded have they done studies on suicide rates for young mothers?

    I just wonder if all variables are taken into account with the SIDS studies.

  3. mother in israel says

    Out of town–with my first baby I felt very uncomfortable, but I eventually figured it out! I can’t imagine any other way now.

    SD–The “back-to-sleep” campaign has decreased the SIDS rate significantly. Your wife is correct that getting a baby to sleep is a top priority for a new mother! That’s why it galls me that the AAP thinks mothers should have to get out of bed several times a night. Hope you are all sleeping well at your house with the little one.

  4. There are also “cosleepers” which are low-sided baby beds that clip to the side of an adult bed. Baby is right there, and whatever worries there might be about having it in the bed are taken care of. Several of my friends have been very happy with this arrangement; however, they can’t really be used once the baby is mobile — but by that point a baby is more able to get out of the way of an adult in the bed.

    “Co-sleepers” are kind of expensive, but as with every other piece of baby gear, one can often find used ones.

  5. mother in israel says


    For many parents that is a very good solution. A similar arrangement involves taking off one side of the crib and pushing it against the bed.

  6. actually, I just read that Dr. Ferber (whose fan I am not) recently revised his opinion on co-sleeping. It is, he said, safe in individual circumstances.

    ‘Scuse me while I breathe a sigh of relief. Trust me – the family bed was not my idea, but it was definitely and sternly espoused by the three Y chromosomes that I now share a bed with. Carefully share a bed with, I should say….

  7. mother in israel says

    Hi mamma,

    I looked up Ferber because I thought he had retracted his opposition quite a while ago (he had, in an interview) and I found this intesting quote here:


    The trend appears to be driven largely by the increase in breastfeeding working mothers, who say it allows them to connect with their babies and still get some sleep.

    The article doesn’t mention that for many working/pumping mothers the night feeding and co-sleeping are critical for their milk supply.

    Thanks for stopping by and give your babies a safe hug from me!

  8. Not sure whether this idea had empirical support, but there was a theory that the mother’s own breathing patterns actually stimulate and therefore protect those of the baby.

    Our pediatrician in the US said that in a bed with sufficient room for mother and baby, the only risk is with obese mothers.

    He also said a major component of the SIDS data was from New Zealand where the babies were not just put on their stomachs to sleep, but face down into a lambswool pelt. And he was against any extraneous bedding including stuffed animals and bumpers no matter which way parents lay the baby down for the first year.