Bed Sharing With Baby: The Risks And Benefits

Bed Sharing With Baby
Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Many would argue that parents specifically mothers should share bed with their baby as it has beneficial effect. While this notion may be supported by scientific evidences, others would contend that sleeping alongside their baby health is more of a health misfortune.

What is Sleep Sharing?

Sleep sharing is when a parent shares a bed with his/her baby rather than the baby sleeps separately. Sleep sharing is not only limited sleeping on bed, but it can also pertain sleeping on a sofa or a chair. In nearly all cases, parents and babies sleep alongside each other all over the world. Although there are very few definitive studies that would confirm such statistics, it is certain that bed sharing with a baby is a growing trend over the years. According to the study conducted by the National Institutes of Health in 2013, the number of infants who share bed with a parent or a caregiver has doubled. That is, from 6.5% in 1993, the percentage of babies who sleep-share with parents has climbed up to 13.5% in 2010. While there are parents who don’t “cohabit” with their babies all the time, surveys disclosed that a mother or a father shares bed with her/his child when necessary.

Why Bed Sharing with Baby?

If you are a parent yourself, you would probably gauge why many parents in the world want to sleep with their babies. There is a plethora of reasons but the most common ones are the following:

  • To create bond. Parents do bed sharing with their babies to form bond, connection or attachment. Most of the times, parents work during daytime, and so, the only moment they can spend time with their little angels is during bed time. Hence, they snuggle in bed together. In this way, they enhance* closeness and compensate with the less time they spent together during the day.
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  • To feed the baby. This is probably the most common reason why parents bed share with their babies – to breast feed or bottle-feed their baby. Isn’t it comfortable to nurse your baby on your side?

What are the Benefits of Bed Sharing with Baby?

For quite a long time now, popular media has discouraged parents from sharing sleep with their babies, saying that doing so is unsafe. However, several researches proved that co-sleeping or bed-sharing are beneficial to an infant not only physically but also psychologically. Some of the benefits gained by an infant are as follows:

  • Bed sharing promotes* prolonged breastfeeding.
    Breastfeeding

    Several organizations and pediatricians such as the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and Dr. William Sears support bed-sharing during breast feeding. Numerous studies have concluded that mothers who habitually bed-share with their infant’s breastfeed longer than those who do not. As a matter of fact, a study that concluded the same was published in a journal entitled “JAMA Pediatrics”.

  • Bed sharing virtually never startle an infant during sleep. According to McKenna, J., et al, research show that when an infant shares bed with parents, he/she is less likely to startle at sleep and would rarely cry during the night. On the other hand, a child who sleeps alone startles repeatedly throughout the night and spends much time crying. This may cause the release of adrenaline interfering restful sleep which eventually results in long term sleep anxiety.
  • Bed sharing results in a more stable infant physiology. Studies showed that infants who sleep near their parents have more steady temperatures as stated by Richard et al. in one of their books about infants and children. Furthermore, Touch in Early Development by Lawrence Earlbaum and Associates, disclosed that infants sleeping with their parents are able to establish consistent heart rhythms, and fewer apnea compared to babies who sleep alone. This means babies sleep physiologically safer.
  • Bed sharing decreases* the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
    There were several studies conducted like the SIDS Global Task Force Child Care Study, International Child Care Practice Study: Infant Sleeping Environment, and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Infant Care Practices in Saskatchewan Canada, which are some of the many worldwide research that showing that the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is lowest in countries where infant bed-sharing or co-sleeping is a norm. According to one book about SIDS, the carbon dioxide exhaled by a parent actually stimulates the baby to breathe.
  • Bed sharing promotes* a healthy emotional health. In one of the thesis in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bristol, it was proven that babies who bed-share with their parents grow up to be individuals with a higher self-esteem and less anxious. Moreover, they are independent, and are better behaved in school. In addition to those mentioned, another study by M. Crawford described children who bed-shared in their infancy tend to be more comfortable with affection. J. F. Forbes et al. author of “The Co-sleeping Habits of Military Children” also articulated that infants who co-slept are more likely to have less psychiatric problems as they grow up.
  • Bed sharing is safer than crib sleeping.
    crib sleeping

    Despite the fact that the Consumer Product Safety Commission published data that tackled and depicted infant fatalities in adult bed, there were several evidences that showed three times as many crib-related infant fatalities. These evidences were written in D. A. Drago and A. L. Dannenberg’s study on infant suffocation in 1980-1997. Furthermore, a study led by R. G. Carpenter concluded that bed sharing does not increase* the risk of SIDS unless the mother is a smoker or an alcoholic.

  • What are the Risks of Bed Sharing with Baby?

    At this point of article run down the drawbacks and potential health risks when parents or caregivers bed share with baby.

    • Bed sharing is the leading cause of cot-related deaths in babies.
      Infant Death Syndrome

      Bed sharing is a risk factor of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. SIDS remains by far the leading cause of death in infants in the United States. From 2009 to 2012, 69% of infants died due to SIDS after bed sharing, the Journal of Pediatrics report. According to experts, sharing bed with baby increases* the risk of airway obstruction and head covering. Real life experiences validate that mothers tend to roll over a baby or suffocate the baby with a pillow when they sleep beside their babies. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics points out that bed sharing is particularly hazardous if the parent is under the influence of a drug and has been working or overly exhausted from work.

    • Bed sharing may cause poor sleeping habit in parents. Bed sharing with baby may mean less sleeping time for parents or caregivers, as infants frequently toss around, and his/her little movements may keep you awake at night.
    • Bed sharing may delay “weaning time”. Bed sharing with baby for longer period of time can actually put harder time to move the baby out of your room. Such transition can be quite a long, drawn-out process because the child has been sleeping with the parent or caregiver for long time.
    • Bed sharing may affect the couples sex life.
      Bed sharing may affect the couples

      Intimacy is one aspect greatly affected when parents co-sleep with babies. Only blunt movements can awaken the baby in the middle of the night, and if one of the parents has snoring disorder, bed sharing would never be a good idea. Thus parents have to think about how to stop snoring.

    • Other risks. The American Academy of Pediatrics together with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission strongly disapproves bed sharing with a child under the age of 2. In addition to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, co sleeping also increases* infant deaths caused by strangulation and suffocation.

    Safety Guidelines on Bed Sharing with Baby

    Safety Guidelines on Bed Sharing with Baby

    The following are some measures parents and caregivers should follow for a safer sleep environment:

    • If possible, practice room sharing instead of bed sharing.
    • Position the baby in a supine position when sleeping in a safety-approved crib. Sleeping on back is scientifically proven to reduce* SIDS risk.
    • The crib, cot or bassinet should have a firm mattress and a fitted sheet. Water beds are highly discouraged. Any surface that is not firm and flat is not baby-friendly.
    • Avoid pillows, toys, quilts and other soft objects inside the crib. These items are highly suffocating and cause strangulation.
    • Make sure the environment is not too hot or too cold. High room temperature is a risk factor of SIDS.
    • Whenever possible, use pacifier during bed time. Study shows that pacifier lessens the risk of SIDS. Consult your doctor for the right pacifier for your child.
    • The UNICEF highly encourages avoiding bed sharing during the early years of the child or when the child is preterm or has low birth weight.
    • Do not leave the baby until he/she fell asleep. Make sure that no bed clothes cover the baby’s face all the time.
    • Parents who smoke and take drug should not sleep alongside their baby.
    • Never place a child on top of a pillow.
    • Never let your baby sleep on a couch or sofa. The crevices or wedges can be dangerous to the child by causing suffocation when his/her face slips down.
    • Mothers should tie their hair to avoid entanglement or suffocation.
    • Do not leave your baby on adult bed. Call to mind that adult bed is not designed for baby safety.
    • Child-proof your room. This can be done by moving the mattress into its lowest position, getting rid of toys, unnecessary objects or decorative cutouts inside the crib, avoid buying drop-side crib type and avoiding fluffy comforter or sheets.
    • If the parent or the caregiver is extremely overweight, bed sharing may not be a safe option.
    • When in bed, declutter ribbons and long strings which can strangulate the baby. Keep pets out of the room (bed).
    • Place rugs or pillows underneath the crib or bassinette. They may serve as cushion in the event the baby rolls off or falls.
    • Make sure that room furniture are positioned away from the crib which can be easily pulled over or loosened.
    • Securely fit bed sheets, so they cannot be easily pulled out or loosened out.
    • Avoid dressing the baby heavily at night. As mentioned previously, too warm environment increases* the risk of SIDS.

    To Bed-Share or Not to Bed-Share?

    To decide if bed sharing is a right choice for your family entails the point of view of the significant other. Bed sharing should not be spontaneous. It should be rather planned and validated by your partner. It is a family decision where couples should be comfortable with the arrangement. In the majority of cases, couples who bed-share with their baby spend lesser time for intimacy. Discourse about the pros and cons of bed sharing, and weigh out what method works best for your family. If you are not sure about it, consult a doctor or your friends, and see how it works for them.

    Besides consulting your partner, check in your baby. Find out how he/she responds to the idea of bed sharing. If your baby is sleeping in a family bed and he/she seems restless or keeps moving all throughout the night, he/she is probably not comfortable sleeping with other people. Try to put him/her in a crib or bassinet, and see how she feels and reacts thereafter. Babies do not like a crowded environment. Hence, if he/she finds himself/herself in a space with more room, he/she would probably happier. Notwithstanding, if you don’t feel the idea of bed sharing or putting the baby in another room, place him/her near you in a crib. Bassinets can be personalized in a way they can be level with the family bed.

    To end, while bed sharing with baby can have potential disadvantages, the benefits outweigh the risks. Bed sharing can actually still be a safe practice if and only if done properly. At present health organizations continue to insist that there is no such golden rule for bed sharing with baby. The decision to bed-share with baby primarily boils down to parents. So long as parents and caregivers follow the recommendations of health organizations about bed sharing, sharing beds with baby is a walk in the park.

    Reference:

    • Mother-child bed-sharing in toddlerhood and cognitive and behavioral outcomes, Lauren Hale, et al.
    • McKenna, J., et al, “Experimental studies of infant-parent co-sleeping: Mutual physiological and behavioral influences and their relevance to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).” Early Human Development
    • C. Richard et al., “Sleeping Position, Orientation, and Proximity in Bedsharing Infants and Mothers,”
    • SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: expansion of recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment, Rachel Y. Moon, et al.
    • Unicef, Information on safe infant sleeping practices.

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    Author

    Expert Author : Peony C Echavez (Consumer Health Digest)

    Peony is a registered nurse, and former Director of Nursing services for a
    large nursing facility. She has written web content for a large health education website, and currently creates content for a number of health
    practisioners.