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Wait, What?! Do We Need to Rethink Skin-to-Skin Contact With Baby?

Photograph by Twenty20

The rules of motherhood are constantly changing, and now another formerly accepted practice has been turned on its head.

Skin-to-skin contact, previously heralded as a panacea for infant health, is back in the gray zone. And pacifiers, formerly condemned as a source of nipple confusion, are back in the medical establishment’s good graces. But why?

A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics analyzed SUIDS (sudden unidentified infant death syndrome) data from 1995-2014, and showed that SUIDS rates in the post-neonatal period (infants older than 27 days) have declined after the American Academy of Pediatrics encouraged placing infants to sleep on their backs. The SUIDS rates for newborns (those under 27 days), however, have failed to decrease. Furthermore, SUIDs caused by unsafe sleep conditions have increased significantly in both age groups. For newborns, the statistics were shocking: More than 29 percent of accidental suffocations occurred in the first six days of life.

Dr. Joel Bass, chairman of the department of pediatrics at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the lead author on the study, told "Today" that one reason this rate may be on the rise is the emphasis on skin-to-skin bonding in baby-friendly hospitals.

More than 29 percent of accidental suffocations occurred in the first six days of life.

The practice of placing the infant on the mother’s chest does help with infant glucose regulation, temperature regulation and stress reduction in the first few hours of life, he said, but it becomes a danger to the child once exhausted parents take the child home. His recommendation was that parents should only do skin-to-skin bonding under supervision.

Pacifiers, on the other hand, were redeemed. Despite being blacklisted for the commonly held beliefs that pacifiers cause nipple confusion and inhibit oral development, studies have found that pacifiers reduce SUIDS by 90 percent. This even extends to babies who sleep on their stomachs. According to research conducted by Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente, babies who sleep on their stomachs without a pacifier have a 2.5 times greater chance of dying from SUIDS, but that risk disappears when the infant uses a pacifier.

Other techniques to prevent SUIDS include keeping infants in the parents' room for extended periods of time (up through the first year) and breastfeeding for the first six months, which reduces the risk of SUIDS by up to 64 percent.

Despite warnings, co-sleeping and attachment parenting advocates continue to argue that co-sleeping can be done safely, and may even benefit babies and parents. If you’re thinking about breaking the habit, here are a few tips on how to stop co-sleeping with your child.

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