Debate over co-sleeping after mother’s homicide arrest

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) – The arrest of a Lancaster County mother for her baby’s suffocation death has started a debate over the safety of co-sleeping.

“It’s very easy for (babies) to suffocate,” said Dr. Jill Valuch, a pediatrician with Eden Park Pediatrics.

Valuch gave that warning Thursday after authorities filed homicide and other charges against Jessica Harper. The 28-year-old Fulton Township woman told investigators her infant son stopped breathing as he slept in her bed between her and her 3-year-old daughter.

State police say the death of Harper’s 2-month-old boy in July came just six days after she received one of many warnings about the dangers of co-sleeping. It wasn’t the first tragedy in the family. In 2011, detectives said Harper had another 2-month-old child who similarly died while sleeping.

“They shouldn’t sleep on you, even on a sofa or an armchair,” Valuch said. “If you’re not awake, they should not be sleeping on you.”

Valuch told ABC27 News it takes only minutes for a baby to suffocate.

Advocates for co-sleeping claim there are many benefits; that it helps little ones sleep at night, and it strengthens the bond parents share with their babies.

“I think the biggest thing is to be clear about the risks,” Valuch said. “I always tell them if something happened like this, even if accidentally, you would never forgive yourself.”

Brett Hambright, a spokesman for Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman’s office, said he couldn’t recall another time in the past two decades that county prosecutors filed homicide charges in a co-sleeping death.

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