The number of infants who sleep in a bed with an adult or another child has doubled over the past 17 years — a troubling development given research showing that bed sharing increases an infant's risk of death from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or other sleep-related causes, such as accidental suffocation and entrapment in bedding material, says a new government-funded study.
The increase was most notable among African-American infants, according to the study reported Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Overall, the percentage of nighttime caregivers who reported that an infant usually shared a bed rose from 7% in 1993 to 14% in 2010. Among black infants the proportion increased from 21% to 39%. Among white infants, it rose from 5% to 9%. Among Hispanic infants, it rose from 13% to 21%.
"The disparity in nighttime habits has increased in recent years," said lead author Eve Colson of the Yale University School of Medicine in a statement. "Because African-American infants are already at increased risk for SIDS, this trend is a cause for concern."
Advice from physicians could significantly reduce infant bed-sharing, also known as co-sleeping, for all families, finds the survey of nearly 20,000 caregivers conducted by researchers with the National Institutes of Health and others. Caregivers who perceived physicians' attitude as against sharing a bed were about 34% less likely to report that the infant usually shared a bed than were caregivers who received no advice.
To reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related dangers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing babies to sleep in the same room as the caregiver, but not in the same bed.
Some physicians say the admonition against bed sharing warrants further consideration. An accompanying editorial in the journal by pediatrician Abraham Bergman of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, says that the "evidence linking bed sharing per se to the increased risk for infant death is lacking." Bergman suggests that "equal time" in physician-parent counseling "should be given to the benefits of bed sharing," such as "more sleep for the parent" and "easier breastfeeding when the infant is nearby."