To Bedshare or Not to Share: Why Infants Shouldn’t Sleep With Mom and Dad

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A new study suggests that breastfeeding and bedsharing may go hand in hand, but while more data supports breastfeeding, the studies aren’t as definitive about parents sleeping in the same bed as their infants.

The U.S. Healthy People goal for 2020 is to increase the number of women who exclusively breastfeed their infants in the first three months to from 33% to 46.2%. And UNICEF and other international organizations are also actively promoting the practice.

But there is far from unanimous agreement on bedsharing.  La Leche League and many parent groups support it because they believe it encourages nursing, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against it because of an increased risk of suffocation and SIDS.

It certainly seems as if bedsharing makes breastfeeding easier, but until a new study published today in JAMA Pediatrics, there was incomplete evidence that the practice actually helped mothers nurse more or longer. There was always the chicken versus egg dilemma: does nursing promote bedsharing or the other way around?

The new research, based on the Infant Feeding Practices Study II, enrolled pregnant women and sent them questionnaires periodically during their babies’ first year. The study results showed that frequent bedsharing was in fact associated with mothers who breastfed longer. Those who bedshared moderately nursed for less time but still longer than the women who rarely shared beds. So, yes, says study co-author Dr. Fern Hauck, a professor of family medicine at the University of Virginia, “The two things are quite intertwined, but we believe that bedsharing promoted breastfeeding, not the other way around.”

Still, she cautioned, physicians’ groups are not recommending sharing a bed with baby because placing infants in adult beds is associated with three times the risk of suffocation or SIDS, even among parents who do not drink, smoke or take drugs. The risks are even higher for parents who do.  More research is needed, she says to find other, safer ways to encourage breastfeeding.

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that parents place babies in their own, safe place in the parents’ room. It can be near their mothers’ bed for ease of nursing, but when finished feeding, mothers should put babies back in their dedicated crib or bassinet.

On a psychological note, Dr. Fran Walfish, a child and family psychologist in Beverly Hills and author of The Self-Aware Parent, says that although it may seem easier for mothers to let babies fall asleep at their breast, doing so may ultimately make things harder. “A key life coping skill is developed when babies are allowed to learn self-soothing in order to fall asleep,” Walfish says. She recommends gently arousing your baby and meeting her eyes when putting her down. “Say goodnight, kiss her and lay her into her crib,” she suggests. Babies will learn to soothe themselves with a thumb, pacifier, or, later, a love object.

While it is typical for breastfed babies to fall asleep at the breast and sleep more soundly, Hauck says, there’s a dark side to such profound slumber. “We believe,” she explains, “”that SIDS is a disorder of arousal. So if babies are sleeping too soundly and they get into a position like getting the nose down into the mattress, they are at higher risk of SIDS.”

So how do new moms balance the benefits of staying physically close to their newborns while not putting them at risk of SIDS? Room sharing might be a solution, say some experts. “Keeping the mother and infant together for most of the time, including night time,” says neonatologist Dr. David daCosta at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, “represents the most biologically appropriate arrangement simply because breastfeeding is not possible or easily managed without it. In my mind, room-sharing with safe-sleep practices would produce similar benefits in motivated parents.”

15 comments
CandyWilliams
CandyWilliams

I never bed shared with my kids. They slept in a bassinet. Then a crib then a bed. But I do think each their own. Now I have a fiancé who bed shared with his daughter. She its almost 4 and will throw horrible fits when he is home and its bedtime. She wants to sleep in our bed. He gives in sometimes and makes it much harder on her for the transition. He thinks I have no maternal instincts because of my view that she has a bed and a room she should sleep there. If she had a bad dream go in and help her calm down. Don't let her crawl in with us. I would be livid if my ex had our kid in bed with him and his new partner. But when he isn't home she will go to bed with little fuss. This bed sharing debate in my house had caused many arguments and almost our break up. I do know I was scared as heck I would kill my baby. Kids breastfed then went right back to their bassinet.

mbx58
mbx58

My wife nursed and our kids slept next to mom, never had a problem. The recommendations to avoid SIDS have changed at least 3 times in 30 odd years and one of them was to sleep with the child because the breathing of the parents would cue the child to continue breathing. Make up your mind.

MichaelMorrisCohn
MichaelMorrisCohn

Maybe half the world has kids sleeping with parents, often till age 12 - 14, including 1st world countries. Their reality is that by forcing children to separate too soon, and requiring inordinately premature self-soothing, is actually child abuse. Ripping a child from its parent, into enforced dark, frightening solitary confinement each night, represents unmitigated cruelty. Try reading Richard Shweder - 'Who Sleeps By Whom"?

cat_plus_plus
cat_plus_plus

I don't care if unnatural behavior is good for you, it still shouldn't be forced on people as the only good way to live. Children and parents love to cuddle and it has many health and safety benefits that offset the risks. If my kid develops a fever or vomits at night I will be immediately alerted and get help even if she is too weak to cry.

molly.ciliberti
molly.ciliberti

What BS! My kids bedshared when they were being nursed and funny they all managed to self comfort. Mothers have slept with their babies for thousands of years and if SIDS was caused by this then how did all of us manage to get here. We are mammals and that is how mammals do it. If you want mom's to breastfeed then make it easier for them not harder and stop all the guilt trips.

vrcplou
vrcplou

It is really quite easy to bedshare safely, keep your infant on their back - that's how they're nursing anyway.  Keep pillows and bedding to a minimum.  We always had light blankets and dressed the baby warmly and had him lay on top of the blankets between us.  We all slept better, including me, mom, and that made me a much better parent.  He slept with us for many years, well beyond what the "experts" recommend.  But when it was time to change, we all knew it and it went smoothly.  He is now a robust, healthy, well-adjusted teenager with no ill effects from bedsharing.  If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

polymathmaniac
polymathmaniac

We have 3 sons and they all slept in the (King) bed for the first year. You are aware of your child and if you aren't comatose from substance abuse of some sort you're not going to roll onto your child. No crying, better and longer sleeps for all concerned and children who have grown up feeling secure. In short this article is BS

SueEmanovsky
SueEmanovsky

Is there any other mammal on earth that sends their infant offspring away to sleep someplace else?

nourishstratford
nourishstratford

This article and its information if more than flawed - it's dangerous. There are studies out there stating the complete opposite. In other nations that EXCLUSIVELY sleep with their infants the incidence of suffocation is nil. I have seen nothing but positive effects from co-sleeping and it comes down to personal choice. Self-soothing or "crying it out" - any of those things can have long term and devastating effects. I think THAT is what parents use for their own convenience - not co-sleeping. I didn't go sleep because it was easier for breastfeeding (although it absolutely was) - I co-slept with my kids because that's what felt normal and safe. 

TimeThoughts
TimeThoughts

Perhaps the author should have googled "safe co-sleeping" for more information. She could have read that studies show that SAFE co-sleeping may actually decrease the risk of SIDS. http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/sleep-problems/sleep-safety/latest-research-co-sleeping-safety

Here are two links out of Notre Dame  http://cosleeping.nd.edu/assets/32946/new_knowledge_new_insights_and_new_recommendations_2003.pdf

http://cosleeping.nd.edu/controversies/

If you look at the Letters page out of Pediatrics (the AAP journal) after the co-sleeping warnings were issued you'll see very heated arguments from physicians across the US with serious concerns about advising against co-sleeping. Additionally, the statement was made by (as I recall and I am sick so won't do the author's research for her) a five member panel. That's it. Five physicians came up with that statement. Oh, and at least one of them had ties to the baby mattress industry. Hmmm...what better way to pad your income than to make recommendations to sell more mattresses.

Here's some good advice on lowering the risk of SIDS and how to safely co-sleep. http://www.askdrsears.com/news/latest-news/dr-sears-addresses-recent-co-sleeping-concerns


MzAgams
MzAgams

Another one of those articles that assumes everybody can afford a separate cot for their babies. Its not always a choice 

blubegonia
blubegonia

@nourishstratford cosleeping leads to co-dependency issues.  i've seen one family do this cosleeping with their chidren: these twenty-something year old children still have NEVER lived in an apartment by themselves (or even co-habitated with friends).  and one (the eldest girl), forced a marriage with a guy, after she had walked away and dated another and rebounded a third (all within eight months) - a perfect example of the destruction of co-dependency.  co-dependency is similar to the welfare children relying on the free money, and never learning how to earn that money themselves.

like anything in life, there needs to be a BALANCE!  for instance, my three year old toddler was a wonderful sleeper as an infant.  just recently, with new hormonal growth spurts, he's been restless.  so, we made a deal he starts sleeping in his bed, and when he wakes up (typically 5 or 6 am) he crawls in bed with me. <---this is a good balance of being together and being separate (methinx).

blubegonia
blubegonia

@TimeThoughts SMART, someone doing research!  can you do the research on tummy sleeping?  i personally like the tummy sleeping.  one stipulation: NO CRAP IN CRIB - MUST BE COMPLETELY EMPTY!

donvon1204
donvon1204

@MzAgams I agree, but given that it's an article about optimal new-born health, I'm guessing the author assumes that the parents should be able to afford the most basic equipment before having a child in the first place.  If it's not a choice to buy the most basic of cribs at a 2nd-hand store, then parenthood shouldn't be happening in the first place.

vrcplou
vrcplou

@blubegonia @nourishstratford If there is co-dependency issues in this family, they would be there regardless of bedsharing.  The parents have issues with boundaries, clearly, and bedsharing is just a particular symptom.  There are parents that can't let go - some bedshare, some don't.  But it isn't the bedsharing that is the *cause* of the co-dependency.