Babies Should Sleep With Their Mothers Until Age Three, New Research Claims

Heather Tooley

Babies should sleep with their mothers until they're at least three or four years of age, according to new research. The insight comes from a pediatrician who claims this is key to helping children rest better and reduce heart-related stress.

Dr. Nils Bergman of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, explains that optimal development of healthy newborns was observed in two-day-old babies who slept on their mother's chest instead of cots for the first two weeks of their life. The infants who slept in cribs weren't as rested as those who slept next to their mothers; they also experienced more stress.

The Daily Mail reports that researchers believe babies should sleep with their mothers because sleeping alone makes it harder for the mother and child to bond. It's thought that it damages brain development and may lead to bad behavior in children as they mature.

Bergman says a baby should continue sharing a bed with their mother until they're at least 3- or 4-years-old.

Studies conducted of mothers accidentally rolling over and smother their children has contributed to women being advised against bed-sharing. A British study showed some interesting aspects of how sudden infant deaths occurred when the bed was being shared. Bergman cites the study when he explains when babies suffer bed deaths, it's not typically related to the mothers being present. It has to do with other factors, such as alcohol, toxic fumes, cigarettes, large pillows, or dangerous toys.

The study concluded that it's healthier for babies to sleep for their mothers for a prolonged period of time after 16 infants were analyzed. The babies were monitored while they slept on their mother's chest and in a crib by her bed. Their heart showed three times more stress sleeping alone than being with their mom. Quality of sleep was sacrificed when babies slept by themselves and and their brains were less likely to "cycle" or make a distinction between two types of sleep that are known as "active" and "quiet." Only six of the 16 infants sleeping in crib had any quiet sleep, and the quality was worse. These transitions are critical for normal brain development, according to the report.

Animal studies have shown that stress and lack of sleep are linked to behavioral problems in the teenage years. Stress hormones changes the brain and make forming relationships more difficult later on.

The National Childbirth Trust agrees with babies sharing bed with their mothers as long as the parents haven't been smoking, drinking, using drugs, are ill, obese, or excessively tired. Professor George Haycock of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths said that the foundation believes they should publicly recommend that "the safest place" is in a crib in the parents' bedroom.