Anti-Bed-Sharing Policies More Dangerous Than Co-Sleeping, Say UQ Researchers

Despite recent deaths of children in which the baby and the parent were sharing the same sleeping surface, anti-bed-sharing policies are more dangerous than co-sleeping, say researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ).

According to the 2011 updated guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the AAP recommends against co-sleeping in which the mother and the child share the same sleeping surface. Instead of bed-sharing, parents are encouraged the sleep in the same room as their children. As Rachel Moon, MD, chair of the AAP’s SIDS task force and author of the 2011 guidelines, stated:

“I think you can breastfeed successfully without bed-sharing. We do want the crib right next to the parents’ bed.”

However, Moon also acknowledges that parents sometimes receive mixed messages about co-sleeping: “While their pediatrician might recommend sleeping separately in the same room, the La Leche League, which promotes breastfeeding, encourages bed-sharing as an option.”

Professor Sue Kruske, director of the UQ’s Queensland Centre for Mothers Babies, believes otherwise. She rejects a recent comment by the Victorian Coroner who labeled co-sleeping in which a parent shares the same bed with an infant younger than a year old as “inherently dangerous.” Kruske believes that comments such as these do not represent current evidence:

“It is not the act of bed sharing that is solely responsible for these deaths. Rather it is other environmental factors that occur in combination with bed sharing.”

For example, in the recent case involving the death of an infant while co-sleeping, a Minnesota mother likely suffocated her young son while sleeping with him on a couch. She admits that she put the child between herself and the back of the couch, which is not recommended by any group that advocates co-sleeping. She also admits that she was drunk, having consumed nearly a fifth of vodka. Being under the influence of any substance is also counter-indicative of safe co-sleeping.

In fact, the majority of so-called “co-sleeping deaths” are in the context of other circumstances including smoking, alcohol and drug use, and unsafe adult sleep environments such as couches. As Kruske comments:

“Prohibiting bed-sharing will actually lead to more harmful practices such as falling asleep with the baby on a couch, which is known to be dangerous, as well as increased cases of babies falling.”

Parents who chose to co-sleep with their babies can do so in ways that make the practice safer such as keeping pillows and blankets away from the child, not using drugs or alcohol, not smoking, and not sleeping on couches or chairs.

As Kruske concludes:

If deaths could be ascribed to co-sleeping without other risk factors present, we would expect a lot more.

“No environment for babies is risk free.

Babies have died alone in cots and babies have died in adult beds.

We give clear advice for reducing risks in cot environments but we have not yet addressed shared sleep environments in the same way.

Many people die in car accidents but we don’t tell people not to drive.

We tell them not to drink and drive, to wear seat belts and not speed.

Similarly, the message for parents is that if you choose, or have no option but to co-sleep, the risks can be reduced by not overheating the baby, not wrapping the baby while bed-sharing, not having either parents as smokers, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

Do you agree that anti-bed-sharing policies are more dangerous than co-sleeping with young babies?