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Are You Smothering Your Kid With Kindness?

Babies are less likely to suffocate in a crib than in bed with mom and dad.

By Elizabeth SvobodaFebruary 5, 2004 6:00 AM


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After a widely publicized rash of crib deaths in the 1980s, some parents started bundling their babies next to them in bed. A study by pediatrician James Kemp of the Saint Louis University School of Medicine suggests that this strategy is misguided. When Kemp and his colleagues compiled national statistics on accidental baby-suffocation deaths from 1995 through 1998, they found that babies who sleep in adult beds are 40 times more likely to suffocate than babies who sleep in standard cribs: 25 deaths per 100,000 infants, compared with 0.63 death per 100,000. “The surfaces adults sleep on are chock-full of places where babies might get trapped. There are well-established standards for cribs, and that’s where babies should be,” Kemp says. A few organizations, including the American Association of Breastfeeding, reject his recommendations as detrimental to the bond between parents and children. Kemp counters that his critics are missing the point. “Being close to your baby at night is a good idea,” he says. “When we publish these numbers, what they should be saying is, ‘OK, we’ve got a challenge. We’ve got to figure out a way to do this safely.’”

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