Category Archives: Parents and parenting
Bed-sharing newborns five times more likely to die suddenly than those who sleep in a cot, study shows
The controversy over whether parents should share a bed with newborns has been reignited by research showing that babies who do are five times more likely to die suddenly than those who sleep in a cot.
Ministers have asked health advisers to urgently reappraise official guidance on co-sleeping and cot death to see if it needs to be updated to recommend that parents never let their child sleep beside them, as is already the case in the Netherlands and the US, which advise against bed-sharing until a child is at least three months old.
The professional body representing doctors specialising in children’s health supported a change that would extend NHS advice not to co-sleep from mothers or fathers who smoke, drink or take illegal drugs to all parents. But other experts, including the National Childbirth Trust, cautioned against any switch and warned that a blanket policy against co-sleeping could end up increasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) by parents falling asleep while caring for a baby on a sofa or chair, which is riskier than a bed.
The study, reported in the medical journal BMJ Open, found that parents who slept with their children ran a five-fold extra risk of their baby suffering a cot death than those left in their cots, even if they did not smoke, which is the main risk factor for such deaths.
The findings, of research led by Professor Bob Carpenter of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, are significant because they relate to babies aged under three months whose parents are thought to be at low-risk of their newborn dying because they do not smoke, and the mother has not been drinking alcohol and does not take illicit substances.
About half of parents sleep with their baby sometimes or regularly, either deliberately or because they have unintentionally fallen asleep beside them, other research shows. Cot death used to cause about 2,000 deaths a year but changes in behaviour, especially parents putting their child to sleep on their back, have seen fatalities fall to 287 across the UK in 2010. About half those deaths occur in cases when the parents and baby are sharing a bed, Carpenter said.
His team looked at the results of five previous Sids studies, which involved 1,472 cases of cot death and 4,679 normal babies. They conclude that 81% of cot deaths among babies under three months, and whose parents do not exhibit the normal risk factors, could be avoided if parents always ensured their child slept separately. Doing so could prevent about 130 of the UK’s annual toll of sudden infant deaths, Carpenter added.
“The current messages saying that bed sharing is dangerous only if you or your partner are smokers, have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs that make you drowsy, are very tired or the baby is premature or of low birth-weight are not effective because many of the bed sharing deaths involve these factors”, the paper says. Doctors, nurses, midwives and health visitors should “take a more definite stand against bed sharing, especially for babies under three months”. If parents heeded their call then a substantial further fall in deaths could be achieved, the authors add.
Bringing a baby into bed temporarily to feed or comfort it is acceptable, but only if it is put back into its cot immediately afterwards, said Carpenter.
The Department of Health has asked the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to urgently examine its guidance. “The death of any baby is a tragedy,” it said. “Putting babies to bed in a safe way reduces the chances of them getting hurt. We know that for the first six months of life, the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot, lying on his or her back, in the parents’ room.”
Nice also advises parents never to sleep on a sofa or armchair with their baby to reduce the risk of suffocation. “Sleeping alongside a baby increases the risks to the child – including death. We currently recommend that doctors, midwives and nurses should warn parents of the risks of sleeping alongside a baby in a bed”, said a spokesman.
Dr Simon Newell, a vice-president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said most babies who sleep with parents will come to no harm. But, he added: “If a simple measure could significantly reduce the risk of death, then we should follow in the paths of the US and Netherlands and recommend parents do not to share a bed with their baby if he/she is under three months old.”
But the NCT, the childbirth and parenting charity, disagreed. “It could lead to an increased likelihood that a parent or carer inadvertently falls asleep while holding the baby, in a chair or on a sofa, which is much less safe for the infant,”, said Rosemary Dodds, its senior policy adviser.
Sids deaths in the UK occur mainly in more disadvantaged families and in places where smoking, drinking or drug-taking occurs, she added.
Unicef UK said Carpenter’s advice was unhelpful to parents who bring their baby into bed for cultural reasons., and endorsed the NCT’s warning about parents feeling forced to adopt riskier practices, such as using sofas and armchairs.
Anita Tiessen, its deputy director, also cast doubt on the evidence and methodology behind the new study and argued that better evidence was already available.
The ageing denizens of Westminster are choking on the causes Jo Swinson champions, from the fight against airbrushing to parents sharing maternity leave. Eva Wiseman heads for the House to meet a woman working from the inside
It was the weekend following my meeting with Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson that she went into anaphylactic shock at the Bishopbriggs Colossal Cake sale in Scotland. She had a severe reaction to a nutty cake. After a night in hospital, where she credits doctors with “saving her life”, she was back at work in the morning. Meeting her, you get the sense she doesn’t really believe in time off.
Her energy is infectious – it’s partly the speed she talks at and the fact that you believe her when she insists she chose this job, this life, purely because she wanted to change the world. We first met when she was chairing a body-image inquiry, but I’ve followed her career for a while, the way you do sometimes – a face you look out for in the paper, a voice you trust on Question Time. She fascinates me, I think, because we’re the same age, and interested in the same things, but live our lives so differently. It is also because she’s a youngish, noisy feminist, like me and my friends, but one that exists in parliament, a foreign country. The call’s coming from inside the House.
One of the reasons she interests me is because so many of her campaigns are accessible – things you don’t need a working knowledge of financial markets to engage with – but this has led to criticism in the past. When, as junior minister for women and equalities, she announced her body-image campaign, a Guardian interview questioned her decision to concentrate on such a “soft, fuzzy” issue and asked whether her time might be better spent addressing women’s unemployment and benefit cuts. I could see the point – I was quietly cynical about the effect of her campaigns for kite marks on adverts stating whether the images had been manipulated (I always think of that Tina Fey quote: “Photoshop itself is not evil. Just like Italian salad dressing is not inherently evil, until you rub it all over a desperate young actress and stick her on the cover of Maxim“) and I was curious to see what impact the government could have on a problem such as body image, one that really has no clear solution. But meeting her a year on, I realise the aim of this campaign was not solely to solve this problem, but that it was just one part of her larger work – to change the culture entirely.
This is one of the things she discussed (after a noted media silence) following the sexual harassment allegations against her colleague, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard. As minister for women, it became clear she had been aware of allegations for some time but refused to comment while the party was carrying out its own investigations. “It’s not just a problem in politics,” she said eventually in a conference speech. “The year is 2013, but society is stuck in the past.” She stressed that a fairer society is only possible if “we challenge the casual culture where men are dominant by default”.
I really want her to tell me the story here – I want to know what happened, what she knew, and how she felt, but she can’t, or she won’t. She refers me to her conference speech, and this is how it is. I realise that this is one of the places I differ from a politician. I’d be tempted to spill.
Now 33, Swinson started young. In 2005 she was elected MP for her hometown, East Dunbartonshire, and became the “baby of the House”, the first-ever MP to be born in the 1980s. “My mum used to send me cuttings from the local paper about people who’d got married as a kind of ‘hint hint’. But then there was one cutting about my home seat’s boundary changes, and how it might be good for the Liberal Democrats, and I knew this was an opportunity.” Although she first drew attention for her youth, she continued to rise through the party because of her initiative. And then, after five years as an opposition MP, in 2010 she became a government minister.
We’re sitting in her office at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, a building that appears half-built – signs for toilets take you to unfinished rooms. We both take a sip of water.
Does it feel different being a Liberal Democrat now? “Now?” Now that people are more… critical? She takes a rare pause. “Well, we still have our social events, with the raffles that never seem to end. There’s a lot that continues. And it’s not like we were used to having fantastic poll ratings anyway. Before, people had a vague idea of the Liberal Democrats, and put their own views on to what we might be – there were a lot of people voting for us as a party of protest, and being in government, that doesn’t happen now. But in many people’s minds there was a general nice but fluffy image of the Liberal Democrats. And that’s different now. It’s sharpened up.”
One of only seven female Lib Dem MPs (22% of MPs in Westminster are women), Swinson talks a lot about the problem of representation, and yet there’s a weariness to the conversation. There’s been much written about the lack of women in parliament – a recent Vogue feature by Ann Treneman was peppered with eye-drying facts, such as: there are more MPs named John than women in total. Yvette Cooper pointed out that in 1997 the Palace of Westminster had a shooting range but no creche. Again, Swinson discusses the need for a change in culture. “And then also cultural barriers, when people don’t see role models like themselves in science…” I interrupt – “Or politics?” “Mmm, or media, or the lobby at Westminster, where it’s massively male, both in government and in the journalists reporting on what’s going on.”
But how does change happen? Acknowledging that these problems exist is not enough. “The piece of legislation that I’m so excited and delighted to be doing is shared parental leave.” She’s helped push through a system that will allow new parents to choose how they share a year’s worth of leave after the birth of their child. ”And changing that legislation is a really good example of how we’re not going to change culture overnight, but how the government has a role to make sure the structures in place reflect modern living.”
Treneman says she suspects men are drawn to politics for its power, whereas women are attracted by the opportunity to make a difference. Does Swinson think a male MP would have fought so hard for this legislation? She sighs, and I blush. “I’m a massive feminist,” she says, gesticulating precisely, eye contact unfaltering, “but I think it’s a little unfair on the other sex saying they’re not in it to change the world.”
But the “culture”. We return to the culture. She’s spoken out against quotas, so I’m interested in her solution to the lack of women in the House of Commons. “I think we need the right solution for the right problem,” she says opaquely. “And it might not be the same for every party. So if there is sexism in the selection process then maybe you do need quotas. But in our party, the problem was far too few women candidates coming forward for seats.” She says they’re making progress with a leadership programme, encouraging people from under-represented backgrounds to become MPs, but it all comes back to “wider issues around the voting system, and challenges around getting equality within politics”.
Before I leave, I want to find out exactly how it feels to be fighting this fight for women from within a system of men. And more importantly, perhaps, how it feels to have to discuss it so regularly. That weariness was telling. Is it helpful to point out the struggles within parliament, or does it get irritating?
“Let’s put it this way,” she smiles tightly. “I’ll love it when we get to the stage that people don’t even think to ask. Because that’ll be a sign that we’ve got to the stage where the culture is one that’s properly diverse. And with those questions my fear is: do we put women off?” Do we?
“It can be unhelpful when we focus on how male dominated it is. How awful the culture is. I fear that message sometimes, that it’s still a dreadful place. It puts women off – they think they won’t be comfortable here. When in fact it’s much better than it used to be.”
It’s this sluggish move forward she’s particularly making me aware of – first the acknowledgement that there’s a problem, and then the investigation into what brought us to this point, and then, finally, the slow fight, whether against sexual harassment at work or negative body image. Since the body-image inquiry, the marketing director of Boots says that what was acceptable 18 months ago in terms of manipulating and “airbrushing” images is not acceptable now, and I believe her. A politician’s life moves fast, I realise, but the changes they make can feel excruciatingly slow. “The debate is changing,” Swinson says, “because people want it to change.”
Outside, clusters of men walk in suits at speed, and tourists take sly photographs of two in bowler hats. Yet Swinson insists that change is really happening. “There are stories about women MPs pre-1997 that shock me. ‘Melon’ gestures in the chamber when a woman got up to speak? That’s unacceptable these days. It has changed. So I hope women will consider a life in politics. We need women, you see. We need them.”
Envision is Yomi Sontan’s highly commended graphic film in the 16-18 age group of the young film-makers’ short film competition. Yomi, 17, wanted to show what can happen when young people can’t get work
It’s not often a budget gets a whole country jumping into bed, but that’s what Australia’s seems likely to do – for the next 14 days, anyway
It’s not often a budget gets a whole country jumping into bed, but that’s what Australia’s seems likely to do – for the next two weeks, at least.
On Tuesday the Labor government in Canberra scrapped the “baby bonus“: $5,000 paid to new parents in 13 fortnightly instalments.
But the change doesn’t come into effect until 1 March 2014, giving Australians just two weeks to get jiggy in order to qualify for the cash.
Economists are often sceptical about the effect financial incentives have on personal relationships; Bagehot in the Economist magazine has argued it is “laughable” to think that relatively small marriage tax breaks proposed in Britain would encourage couples to get together or stay together – and people still get divorced, despite the sometimes punitive cost.
But Australians seem particularly susceptible to such a financial … erm … stimulus. After the baby bonus was introduced in 2002, the Melbourne Institute estimated that it had increased the country’s birthrate by 3.2%.
In the Melbourne Age, Jacqueline Maley noted that thousands of Australian women would now be thinking of treasurer Wayne Swan – a man “not exactly known for his smooth or seductive appeal” – as they propositioned their partners over the next 14 days. “Men will be high-fiving when they glimpse him on the nightly news,” she added.
Swan himself was apparently unconcerned by the idea Australia could grind to a halt (sorry) as couples get busy before the unofficial deadline in two weeks’ time. Labor is flagging in the polls and he may have hoped cheering the country up a bit might give the party a boost. And if not, well, no hard feelings.