Bed Sharing With Infants On The Rise, Experts Disagree On Pros And Cons

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

Despite a wealth of information advising against it, the number of infants sharing a bed with their parents or a sibling increased between 1993 and 2010, according to a new report in JAMA Pediatrics.

While parents and their babies sharing the same bed may seem like a benign or even loving habit, studies have shown that the practice is connected to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Based on a series of annual telephone surveys conducted between 1993 and 2010 in 48 states, the study found that the proportion of infants sharing a bed increased from 6.5 percent in 1993 to almost 14 percent in 2010. The increase was most significant among black and Hispanic families throughout the study period. Among white families, the practice increase from 1993 to 2000, but but appeared to level off from 2001 to 2010.

“That’s a concern because we know that blacks are at increased risk for SIDS,” study author Marian Willinger, an administrator at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told the Associated Press. “We want to eliminate as many risks as we can for everybody, particularly in that population where we’re seeing increasing disparities.”

Infant deaths are categorized as SIDS if it occurs in the first year of life and remains inexplicable even after a thorough investigation. Federal officials started to take annual surveys on infant sleep habits in 1993 after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents place sleeping babies on their backs as a way of lowering SIDS risk.

The study authors also noted household income, region of the country, infant age and whether the child was born prematurely as determining factors for bed sharing. Over half the respondent since 2006 said medical professionals had never discussed the risks of bed-sharing with them.

“That in and of itself is kind of shocking … because the recommendations have long been out,” SIDS expert Dr. Fern R. Hauck, a family medicine professor at the University of Virginia, told the AP.

In a contrasting editorial published alongside the study, Dr. Abraham B. Bergman of the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle generally disagreed with the notion of bed sharing as a bad idea.

“Colson and colleagues report that from 1993 through 2010, the overall trend for U.S. caregivers to share a bed (also known as cosleeping) with their infants has significantly increased, especially among black families,” he wrote. “Because of their belief that bed sharing increases infant mortality, the authors call for increased efforts by pediatricians to discourage the practice. I find the report disquieting because evidence linking bed sharing per se to the increased risk for infant death is lacking.”

“The campaign against bed sharing stems from a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP),” Bergman continued. “Equal time in counseling should be given to the benefits to bed sharing, such as more sleep for the parent, easier breastfeeding when the infant is nearby, ease of pacifier reinsertion, and the intangible satisfaction of skin-to-skin contact.”

“In its admonition against bed sharing, the AAP has overreached,” Bergman concluded.

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