Fivefold Risk Increase Of SIDS When Parents, Babies Bed Share
May 21, 2013

Fivefold Risk Increase Of SIDS When Parents, Babies Bed Share

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, remains a major cause of death for babies less than a year old in developed nations despite a growing consensus that sleeping with a baby increases risk of death. This cause of death may be pronounced when parents smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs.

However, a new study by the London School of Hygiene & Topical Medicine (LSHTM) has found that bed sharing between parents and babies is associated with a fivefold increase in the risk of SIDS even when the parents are non-smokers, non-drinkers and non-drug users. The study is published in BMJ Open.

In some countries, including the US, experts advise parents against sharing a bed with their baby for the first three months. In other countries, including the UK, experts only advise certain groups of parents — smokers, drinkers, etc. — not to bed share.

Study leader Prof. Bob Carpenter undertook what is being called the largest analysis of its kind in order to examine cases of cot death across five major studies. In an examination of 1,472 cot deaths and 4,679 control cases, Carpenter and his colleagues found that the risk of SIDS among breastfed babies under 3 months of age sharply increased during bed sharing.

The researchers believe that 81-88 percent of all SIDS cases among babies less than 3 months old with no other risk factors could be prevented if they did not share a bed with their parents. The team also found that the risk of cot death decreases as the baby ages, and the peak period for instances of cot death was for babies between seven and 10 weeks old.

"Currently in the UK more than half of cot deaths occur while a baby is sleeping in the same bed as its parents. Although it is clear that smoking and drinking greatly increase the risk of cot death while bed sharing, our study shows that there is in fact an increased risk for all babies under 3 months who bed share, even if their parents do not smoke or drink,” said Prof. Carpenter.

While the risk of SIDS from bed sharing was at fivefold, the study authors said that parents who smoke, drink (two or more units within a 24 hours period) or use illicit drugs, including marijuana, at any time since the child was born, can greatly increase the risk of contributing to cot death.

The study found that 22.2 percent of the SIDS cases analyzed occurred when one or both parents had been sleeping with their child at the time of death. In the control group only 9.6 percent of parents had awoken on the morning of the interview in the same bed as their child. As bed sharing has increased over the past 10 years, the researchers now estimate that about 50 percent of all SIDS cases occur while bed sharing, more than double the figure found in the current study.

"If parents were made aware of the risks of sleeping with their baby, and room sharing was instead promoted in the same way that the 'Back to Sleep' campaign was promoted 20 years ago to advise parents to place their newborn infants to sleep on their backs, we could achieve a substantial reduction in cot death rates in the UK,” said Prof. Carpenter. “Annually there are around 300 cot death cases in babies under a year old in the UK, and this advice could save the lives of up to 40 percent of those. Health professionals need to make a definite stand against all bed sharing, especially for babies under 3 months.”

“We recognize that some parents will choose to sleep with their babies as opposed to placing them in a cot or a Moses basket next to their bed,” Frances Bates, of The Lullaby Trust, told the BBC´s Michelle Roberts.

The Lullaby Trust [a charity for safer sleep arrangements for babies] supports parental choice but we would also urge every new mother and father to weigh up the known risks of sharing a bed with their baby and, in light of their own situation, take appropriate precautions,” added Bates. "Our core message remains that the safest place for a baby to sleep for the first six months is in a crib or cot in the same room as a parent."

The authors agreed that babies should be placed in a cot next to their parents' bed when sleeping, but maintained that there is nothing wrong with bringing the baby into the parents´ bed for comfort and feeding.

A 2004 study conducted by Prof. Carpenter and published in the journal Lancet showed that six out of 10 cases of SIDS in Europe was attributable to lying babies on their front or sides. That study also found that in 77 percent of cases studied where a baby died while sharing a bed, the mother had been a smoker. The study further found that in cases where the mother had not smoked and shared a bed with her baby, no significant increased risk for cot death was found after the first eight weeks.