Smoking, Alcohol, Overheating Dangerous To Co-Sleeping Babies, Says Study

Amid recent criticism by researchers at the University of Queensland that argues that anti-bed-sharing policies are more dangerous than co-sleeping, a new study published in the August 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics also concludes that co-sleeping in which a parents shares a sleeping surface with an infant can be done safely so long as certain precautions are taken.

Co-sleeping, or bed-sharing, is a common practice in much of the world. However, in developed countries such as the United States, co-sleeping with an infant is discouraged. According to guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2011, parents should sleep in the same room as their baby but not on the same sleep surface.

However, many parents do end up co-sleeping at least part of the time. The majority of babies do not have any problems sharing a sleep surface with an adult.

In a new study, researchers at the Departments of Women’s and Children’s Health and Preventive
and Social Medicine at the University of Otago in New Zealand sought to compare desaturation events and rebreathing episodes between co-sleeping and crib-sleeping infants. Desaturation events are when oxygen levels drop by more than 3 percent. Rebreathing episodes are when an individual partially or completely inhales previously exhaled gases.

To examine the effects of co-sleeping on desaturation events and rebreathing episodes, the researchers studied forty healthy full-term infants between the ages of 0 and 6 months old who regularly bed-shared with at least one parent and forty comparative infants who slept in cribs. The behavior of the parents and the infants were recorded using infrared video. Oxygen levels and body temperatures were also recorded.

According to the study, the co-sleeping infants experienced “more episodes of mild oxygen desaturation associated with the warmer microenvironment and responded more frequently to rebreathe stimuli” in comparison to the infant who slept in cribs.

However, more severe desaturation events and longer apneic events in which the baby stopped breathing were rare but occurred among both the co-sleeping and the crib-sleeping infants.

All of the babies participating in the study were healthy and at a low risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Being healthy, all of the co-sleeping infants responded appropriately to potential stressors such as temperature changes and decreased oxygen. Therefore, the researcher conclude that only infants who do not respond to the microenvironment created by co-sleeping are at an increased risk for fatal sleep accidents.

In their concluding remarks, the researchers reiterate some important points about safe co-sleeping, acknowledging that co-sleeping results in both “beneficial and potentially compromising situations.” If parents take precautions and avoid smoking, alcohol, and overheating while sharing a sleep surface with a baby, then co-sleeping can be done safely with a low-risk infant.

“Infant homeostatic responses and frequent maternal interactions seemed to keep these low-risk infants safe. However, we suggest that it is potentially hazardous for an infant to sleep in the same bed as their parent, if the infant and/or mother are unresponsive. We acknowledge that BS [bed-sharing] is a practice valued by many; thus, it is important to identify the specific dangers related to this practice. Keeping the infant smoke-free at all times, including during pregnancy, is perhaps the most important message, as well as avoiding consumption of alcohol or sedating drugs on the BS night; keeping the infant’s face clear; and avoiding the use of thick insulation as overbedding.”

Additional studies need to be conducted on the effects and potential dangers of co-sleeping on high-risk infants.

Do you co-sleep with your young children?