Oct. 6, 2003 -- As much as parents may want to be close to their children, putting baby to sleep in the same bed with them may be a dangerous idea.
"The odds of death go up dramatically among babies who use adult beds," says researcher James Kemp, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, in a news release.
"Granted, you want to be close to your baby at night time. But we don't think babies should be in adult beds," says Kemp. "This has to be a risk assessment and it remains a terrible idea to share an adult bed with a baby."
Comparing Infant Suffocation Risks
About 13%-14% of parents say they share beds with their babies, and researchers say this is the first study to compare the risk of suffocation for infants who sleep in cribs, adult beds, or on sofas.
Researchers reviewed all reports of accidental suffocation among infants that were reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission from 1980 through 1983 and 1995 through 1998. They also used survey information on sleep location collected by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to calculate the risk of suffocation in cribs, adult beds, and on sofas or chairs.
The study showed that the number of infant suffocation deaths dropped from 192 to 107 from the 1980s to the 1990s, but the number of suffocation deaths in adult beds increased from 152 to 391 during the same period. The number of suffocations reported on sofas and chairs also rose from 33 to 110.
Researchers say that infant suffocation deaths in adult beds were more than eight times more likely to be reported in the 1990s than in the 1980s, and infant deaths on sofas and chairs were more than 17 times more likely to be reported.
Overall, the study showed that the risk of suffocation for babies in cribs was .63 deaths per 100,000 infants compared to 25.5 deaths per 100,000 infants who suffocate in adult beds from 1995 to 1998.
The complete results appear in the October issue of Pediatrics.
Researchers say younger infants may be at the greatest risk for dying in adult beds because they lack the motor skills to escape potential threats to their safety, such as soft bedding or being trapped between the bed and the wall.
"For beds not designed for infants, it is difficult to control potential hazardous arrangements causing suffocation," says Kemp.
'Back to Sleep' Is Only the Beginning
The researchers say that although parents are now more aware of the dangers of putting their babies to sleep on their stomach, they may not be aware of the risks of putting them to sleep in places other than their crib.
"While sleep position plays an importing role in keeping babies safe, it is only part of the solution," says Kemp. "Putting a baby to sleep in an adult bed is dangerous, and a risk that parents don't have to take. A sleeping baby belongs in a crib or other approved baby bed."
Since 1992 the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that parents put their babies to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Since that awareness campaign, the number of SIDS deaths has been cut nearly in half.