Parenting • Aug 04, 2011

Understand the risks of bed-sharing

I am likely to lose sleep over a segment that aired this week on a national network morning news show discussing a new study on so-called “bed sharing.”  To be clear – my dispute is with the TV segment, not the study. The study, at Columbia University and Stony Brook University in New York, suggests children older than one-year-old do not suffer emotional or developmental consequences from sharing a bed with their parents.

I am in no position, nor do I have a reason, to argue these findings. As director of the sleep center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, I am, however, in a position to point out that this particular segment’s inaccurate, vague and misleading report has potentially put tens of thousands of babies across the country at risk.

By touting the “benefits” of co-sleeping in connection to breastfeeding, and while showing video of infants clearly under one-year-old, this news outlet carelessly lost point of the study’s findings and flagrantly sent a message to moms and dads that sleeping in the same bed with an infant is OK.

Increasing the Risk of SIDS

Please make no mistake, whether you hear it referred to as “co-sleeping” or “bed-sharing,” the act of sleeping in the same bed with an infant under the age of one has been shown by repeated studies to increase that baby’s risk of suffocation as well as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

When a baby dies suddenly or unexpectedly in his sleep, more than 80% of the time that baby was sleeping in a bed or on a couch with an adult.

Where Is the Safest Place for Your Baby to Sleep?

Statistically, the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a separate bed in his mom or dad’s room. The next safest place is in his own bed in his own room. Sleeping in the same bed as a parent is NOT safe. It exposes the baby to tremendous risk of suffocating either under the bedding or by being smothered or crushed under the weight of a parent who rolls over in his or her sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend bed-sharing. Parents across the country rely on national news outlets to deliver important information that could impact their safety and the safety of their children. When those news outlets don’t get it right, thousands of children could suffer.  As a physician who has seen first-hand the devastation a SIDS or suffocation death can cause a family, I hope moms and dads who saw this news segment will take time to read the actual study so that in spite of sloppy reporting, they’ll know better.


  1. Great article! Hearing this information, why would a parent want to put their child in harms way. There is NO safe way to co-sleep. It’s just ignorance and laziness. I know of so many people that have lost their babies due to co-sleeping (not using drugs, alcohol, or anything like that) just simple rolling on top of them. I don’t care if you are a light sleeper or not, it’s still a risk that i’m not wiling to take.

  2. It may reduce the risk if you co-sleep and follow the “guidelines” but I have also met parents who have followed all of the guidelines and their babies have died (parents have rolled over on their babies, etc). They don’t talk about it much, because they are afraid of being attacked and they feel tremendous guilt. I hope that parents will consider the information that Dr. Kemp has stated above and keep their babies in a separate crib or pack ‘n play near the parents bed.

  3. The prevailing opinion cited above is disingenuous at best. In the parent’s bed, when the safety guidelines are adhered to, a baby is at his or her safest, near to mother and the breast, and both baby and parents achieve healthier sleep.

  4. Cosleeping increases SIDs risk? I’ve clearly been reading different studies than the author (and will be happy to look them up in the morning when I’m not on my phone). I find it ironic that this article criticizes a new agency’s “inaccurate, vague and misleading report” when it is guilty of exactly the same thing.

    Cosleeping, when done deliberately, with thought and planning, is indeed safe, natural and rewarding.

  5. If my PEDIATRICIAN hadn’t showed me how to nurse laying down and actually SUGGESTED cosleeping, I never would have been able to 1) breastfeed and 2) actually sleep. I was unable to get out of bed following my first c-section for almost 3 weeks, so cosleeping was the only way I could nurse. And after that, my daughter woke every 45m or so. No stretches longer than an hour. And that was in a crib or in my bed. I had similar complications with my son and he also slept on his tummy – again, advice from my pediatrician, to help with some medical problems he has. My son was in Children’s in Boston for a week when he wad 13m and I slept in his bed every night. Not one doctor or nurse said anything to me. You would think, if co-sleeping really was the root of all evil, that neither my doctor, or the L&D nurses, or the myriad people at Children’s would have let me sleep with him.

    And there’s no reason to throw insults – generalizing the millions of people worldwide who cosleep “ignorant and lazy” just serves to make you sound ignorant.

  6. Bed sharing is a risk I am NOT going to take. There are such things as co-sleepers, that attach to your bed, your child is still with in arms reach and MUCH safer. I had a pack and play with bassinet attachment for my son. I never bed shared. I have a friend who lost a baby to this, she had her mattress ON THE FLOOR, fitted sheet. Just her and baby, no blankets, pillows..ect…ect. She doesn’t drink/smoke/or do any drugs. She is skinny and healthy. She was a ‘light’ sleeper, and still, she woke up with a heart ache and realized why. She woke up to her beautiful baby girl, blue and stiff. What happened? She moved her arm just right, the baby’s mouth/nose were trapped under the inner part of her arm. Mom and baby were sleeping together and she didn’t realize. She now lives with heart ache….why? Because she followed Dr. James Mckenna & Dr. Sears’ advice, did all the ‘safe’ protocols and still lost her baby. If you go to this page and read the stories, there are many families who have lost their babies due to bed sharing.
    Think twice before you bed share….is it really worth the risk?
    Yes, cribs can be faulty, but that is why there are recall websites, and of course, making sure you put the crib together the right way. I myself don’t like cribs nor do I bed share. I prefer a pack n play. Portable, reliable, safe and some, like mine, have the bassinet attachment for when they are younger.
    I wouldn’t call bed sharing mothers lazy but some are ignorant, meaning they don’t know all the facts. It is true, many parents who have lost their babies to bed sharing do not want to talk about what happened to them because it hurts to much to talk about and because so many parents attack them, saying things like they must have been drunk or oh the baby was bottle fed or something along those lines. I am sure that night breast feedings are easier if you just wake up and move your baby over to you, but what if you woke up to a baby not crying? I would rather get out of bed and breast feed, or hear my baby cry in his own bed, than to never hear him cry again.

    Anyways, I know that the mothers who bed share now, are probably not going to change their minds because they feel like we’re telling them that they’re putting their baby in harms way, and no parent wants to be told that.

    I practice attachment parenting and my son sleeps in his own bed!!!! =)

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