The proof has become quite clear: bed-sharing, or co-sleeping, increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). A recent study or research published in the British Medical Journal in May, 2013, Bed sharing when parents do not smoke: is there a risk of SIDS? supports the conclusion that infants who share a bed with their parents during the first 3 months of life increase their risk of SIDS by five times—even if parents don’t smoke, don’t use alcohol, and exclusively breastfeed. If the parents smoke, there was a 65-fold increase in SIDS; if parents consumed alcohol, the risk increased 90-fold. The risk of SIDS was “inestimably large” for bed-sharing if the mother used illegal drugs. But, again, even if none of these other risks were present, there was still a very large increase in SIDS rates. Bed sharing, even among breast-fed babies with no other risk factors, increased the risk of SIDS by a 5-fold compared to babies who slept on their own surface in their parents’ room or in their own rooms.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended against bed sharing since their 2011 recommendations for the safest sleep environment for babies. Their guidelines are comprehensive and well-referenced, including many specific recommendations:
- Babies should be put down to sleep on their backs. (That doesn’t mean they must be kept on their backs. Once they can roll, let them roll.
- Do not use devices that force your baby to stay in one position. Baby sleep positioners kill.)
- Infants should sleep in a crib or bassinet—on a firm flat surface that’s safety-approved for infant sleeping. Car seats and other devices that hold baby in a sitting or semi-sitting position are not for routine sleep.
- Room sharing without bed sharing is recommended.
- Avoid pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, and other soft surfaces under the infant or in their sleep environment.
- Avoiding smoking, alcohol, and illicit drug use during and after pregnancy.
- Avoid overheating.
- Immunize infants according to the established recommendations of the AAP and CDC
Bed sharing is a choice that many families make. Some parents enjoy the closeness of baby, and feel more secure; some nursing moms feel that it makes nursing easier. But parents who choose to bed-share should have honest, well-researched information on both risks and benefits. Bed sharing, even with no other risk factors, dramatically increases the risk that your baby will die of SIDS.