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.