A study published online on September 30, 2013 in the medical journal JAMA has found that infant co-sleeping is on the rise, especially among minority mothers.
In their background information, the authors explained that while it is common in many cultures for babies to sleep in bed with the parents, the practice tends to be frowned upon by American medical practitioners because of its association with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants share a room with their parents – but not a bed – in order to avoid the danger of suffocation. And, it was their hope, the authors concluded, that their findings could help in evaluating interventions aimed at preventing this behavior.
The study was conducted by Se. Eve R. Colson from the Yale University School of Medicine. She and her research team studied 18,986 people who participated in the National Infant Sleep Position study, which was conducted via telephone in 48 states. Over 84 percent of the participants were mothers with babies. Almost half of the caregivers were older than 30 years of age, had at least a college education and had an annual income of $50,000 or more. More than 80 percent of the participants were white.
The team found that 11.2 percent of the people taking the survey regularly slept in the same bed with their babies. In addition, the proportion of those sharing a bed with an infant jumped from 6.5 percent to 13.5 percent between the years of 1993 to 2010. While bed-sharing increased throughout the entire study period among black and Hispanic families, the white families experienced an increase in bed-sharing only in the 1993 to 2000 time frame.
The percentage of black infants who usually co-slept with their parents rose from 21.2 percent in 1993 to 38.7 percent in 2010. Hispanic infants who co-slept with their parents rose from 12.5 percent to 20.5 percent. And, the percentage of white infants co-sleeping with their parents rose from 4.9 percent to 9.1 percent.
The study authors noted that black infants, who were the most likely to be sleeping in bed with their parents, are also at the greatest risk for SIDS.
In addition to race, other factors that were associated with a higher likelihood of bed-sharing included: income below $50,000, living in the West or South versus the Midwest, having a baby younger than 15 weeks and premature birth.
However, in a commentary published in the same issue of the journal, Abraham B. Bergman, M.D., of the Harborview Medical Center, Seattle takes a different point of view, saying that he finds the report “disquieting” because there is a lack of evidence supporting the claim that co-sleeping increases risk for SIDS.
Bergman points out that there are also several tangible benefits that come from the practice of bed-sharing, including: better sleep for the parents, easier access to the mother for breastfeeding, ease of reinserting a dropped pacifier and the satisfaction obtained by mother and baby of having close contact. He says, in his opinion, the AAP “has overreached” in its recommendation against bed-sharing.
Another prominent doctor, Barry Sears, also seems to agree with Bergman. On his blog, he has revealed that he and his wife slept in the same bed with five of their children and that he believes “parents need to be sensible and use whatever arrangement gets all family members the best night’s sleep.”
So, while some doctors seem to be alarmed by the rise in infant co-sleeping, there is clearly not a consensus among all doctors that this is a bad trend.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening