Over the last 20 years, the number of parents sharing a bed with their infants has doubled.
That revelation, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, concerns doctors since in that same time, greater awareness of the dangers of bed sharing, which include sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation, and getting trapped in bedding, have also increased. According to the survey, the percentage of infants who shared a bed with their caregivers rose from 7% in 1993 to 14% in 2010. The upward trend was strongest among African American infants; in 1993, 21% co-slept with an adult, while in 2010 39% did.
The findings point to the weak penetration of public health messages urging parents to give each child her own place to sleep not just for safety reasons, but to make the transition to independent sleeping arrangements easier later on. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents put babies in their own sleeping area in the parents’ room.
(MORE: To Bedshare or Not to Share: Why Infants Shouldn’t Sleep With Mom and Dad)
The research, funded and conducted by the National Institutes of Health, surveyed 20,000 caregivers about their bed sharing habits. While more parents were cuddling up with their infants compared to earlier years, despite the known health risks, the researchers did discover that parents would listen to their pediatricians if they were warned about the dangers of the practice. Caregivers who believed that their family doctor did not approve of bed sharing were 34% less likely to report co-sleeping with an infant than caregivers who did not receive such advice from their doctor.
In an accompanying editorial, however, Dr. Abraham Bergman of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle argued that there isn’t strong evidence to link co-sleeping arrangements with a higher risk of SIDS or suffocation. He noted that bed sharing can strengthen the bond between parents and infants, and that the practice could make breastfeeding easier for mothers. (In fact, a recent study found a strong connection between bed sharing and extended breasfeeding.) More studies may be needed to tease apart the relative benefits and risks of the practice, especially since the latest data shows that co-sleeping is becoming increasingly popular with parents.