Wa-a-a-a-h! It's a Cuddle Crisis! Or Is It?

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Everyone knows that waterbeds are tacky. But dangerous? Well, maybe for babies. A new study from the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission indicates that children under the age of two are more likely to die while sleeping with their parents — particularly in waterbeds — than in their own cribs. Over the course of eight years, 515 children died as a result of mishaps in their parentsí beds, versus 400 who were killed by accidents in a crib. These fatalities are separate from so-called crib deaths — or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) — where young children die for no apparent reason. Particularly risky to infants, say the studyís authors, are the weight of unconscious adults, the spaces between the headboard and mattress in many beds and the indentations common in older waterbeds.

But before abandoning "co-sleeping," which is common among several minority groups and increasingly encouraged by pediatricians, parents should note that the study has been heavily criticized for its methodology. Itís not clear, for instance, how many children died from accidental suffocation by a parent who was drunk or drugged. William Sears, a California pediatrician who recommends the practice, told the New York Times that he warns parents using alcohol or drugs not to bring their children to bed. Obese parents should also be particularly cautious, he says.

"Co-sleeping" is seen as a way to develop better parent-child bonding and as a way to make breast-feeding easier and more comfortable. James McKenna, a Notre Dame professor familiar with baby-parent sleeping patterns, hints that babies who sleep with their parents may be at a lower risk for SIDS. McKenna told the Associated Press that even in the deepest stages of sleep, mothers respond within seconds to their babyís slightest noises. In his studies, he says, the only time parents have been unresponsive is when they are desensitized by drugs, alcohol or some other means. In the end, experts agree that something as personal as sleeping arrangements probably wonít be affected by government studies. Now, if they would only ban waterbeds...