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Study: No Risks if Toddlers Share Parents' Bed

Researchers Say Bed Sharing Isn't Linked to Later Problems With Behavior or Learning
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

July 18, 2011 -- Toddlers who share a bed with their parents do not face increased risks for behavioral or learning problems at age 5, according to new research.

The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against bed sharing during infancy because it may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, but little is known about the risks of bed sharing by toddlers after age 1.

Bed sharing or co-sleeping is common in many countries and cultures, but in the U.S. parents often receive mixed messages about the practice.

"The idea that bed sharing may be bad for toddlers is mostly based on folklore," says study researcher R. Gabriela Barajas of Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City. "From what we see, there is no additional risk of behavioral and cognitive problems among toddlers who share a bed with their parents."

The new findings appear in the August issue of Pediatrics.

Checking for Behavioral Problems

Children from 944 low-income families were assessed at ages 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. While children who shared a bed between the ages of 1 and 3 were more likely to have behavioral or cognitive problems at age 5, these issues were deemed to be due to factors other than bed sharing, such as socio-demographic factors and maternal education levels.

Close to 50% of families said they had shared a bed at least once; 73% of the families in the study were living below the poverty line.

The study did not look at why the children were sleeping in their parents' beds in the first place, which can be key information, experts tell WebMD.

Nanci Yuan, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., says that poor sleep, which results in bed sharing, may be the first sign of certain developmental disorders.

In these cases, she says, "Parents will report that their child was never a good sleeper and they had to sleep with the kid."

Why Toddlers Share Parents' Bed

The risks associated with bed sharing depend largely on why your child is in your bed. This study looked at lower socioeconomic groups who may frequently share beds due to financial reasons.

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