The number of babies who share a parents’ bed has more than doubled since the early 1990s, according to the recent National Infant Sleep Study, despite a number of public service ads warning of the increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or other unintentional sleep-related death associated with the practice. Sleep-related suffocation is a leading cause of preventable infant death, accounting for nearly 1,000 infant deaths each year; this number has quadrupled since 1984. Many of these deaths are the result of unsafe sleep environments. In the past four years, more infants in Los Angeles County died from suffocation due to unsafe sleeping arrangements than all other accidental deaths of children under 14 combined, including drowning, car accidents, and poisoning.
For the first three to four months of a baby’s life, he can only breathe through his nose and he does not yet have the strength to lift his head. This means he can easily suffocate if he sleeps face down or if a pillow, blanket, person, or other soft object presses against his face.
Of the 18,986 participants in the National Infant Sleep Position Study, 11.2 percent of nighttime caregivers said sharing a bed with an infant was a regular practice. This number is up from 6.2 percent in 1993. The study showed the practice of bed sharing had increased especially among Hispanic and black infants, suggesting an uneven nationwide adherence to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for safe infant sleeping environments.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends room sharing instead of bed sharing for parents who wish to be close to their children at night. Sharing a room rather than a bed reduces the risk for SIDS by as much as 50 percent. Parents may bring the baby to their bed for feeding or comforting but should return the child to the crib for sleep. This arrangement is most likely to prevent suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment of the infant.
AAP does not recommend the use of devices promising to make bed sharing safe. The association also strongly warns against bed sharing with someone who is overly tired, has taken medication that can make them difficult to rouse, or who smokes.
- Colson ER, Willinger M, Rybin D, et al. Trends and Factors Associated With Infant Bed Sharing, 1993-2010: The National Infant Sleep Position Study. JAMA Pediatr. 2013;():-. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.2560.
- "Suffocation Deaths Associated with Use of Infant Sleep Positioners - United States, 1997–2011." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 23 Nov 2012. Web. 4 Oct 2013.
- Moon Ry, et al. "SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: expansion of recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment." Pediatrics. 2011 Nov;128(5):1030-9. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-2284. Epub 2011 Oct 17.