In a blunt warning to parents Olle said that sleeping with babies was a potential death trap - yet parents every day put their child’s life at risk through lack of awareness.
From 2008 to 2010, suffocation from sleeping with an adult was the cause of more than half of all sudden infant deaths in NSW.
He was handing down the findings into the deaths of four babies aged between 10 weeks and five months, who died of SIDS - each of them having shared a bed with a parent just before or at the time of their death.
“I am satisfied sharing a sleep surface with an infant is an inherently dangerous activity,” Olle said.
“Caregiver/infant sharing of ... beds, sofas, mattresses and armchairs, increases the risk of infant death from a fatal sleep accident and may increase the risk of infant death from SIDS,” he said.
Olle said many parents were unaware of the risks, or received inaccurate information on how babies should sleep.
NSW opposition health spokesman Dr Andrew McDonald, who works as a paediatrician once a week, said it was imperative the state government ramped up its public health campaign against the practise.
“This should be a call to action for the O’Farrell government to ensure all new parents are well informed of the very serious risks bed sharing poses for babies,” he said.
“We know from the statistics how incredibly dangerous it is to sleep with your baby. Babies are brought into bed for breastfeeding and for settling but they must go back to their own bed, next to the parents’ bed,” Sids and Kids general manager Ros Richardson begged parents to heed Olle’s advice.
She said sleep-deprived parents as well as those suffering from post-natal depression were often the ones who doze off with their newborn.
“It is dangerous for the baby in so many ways,” she said.
A South Australian forensic pathologist who has performed autopsies on babies found unexpectedly dead said that half of the infants were sleeping beside an adult at the time.
“Accidental suffocation appears to be a more likely mechanism of death than subtle processes leading to SIDS,” Professor Roger Byard said.
In a recent medical paper Prof Byard said that while many parents believe sleeping next to their baby was related to establishing a more solid bond between them, the risks far outweighed any of the perceived gains.
He said letting babies sleep on couches and other soft surfaces were high-risk factors.
Parenting advocate Vanessa Tobias said new parents get too many mixed messages, and called for a consistent set of sleep guidelines: “Parents need a list of do’s and don’ts.”
She said no parent intentionally put their child’s life at risk, but often did so inadvertently.
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