Study Links Breastfeeding to Mother-Baby Bed Sharing

From the WebMD Archives

May 16, 2000 (Boston) -- New moms who breastfeed their babies are three times more likely to share a bed with their infant, according to a new study. But is it a safe practice? And which parents are more likely to bring their babies to bed with them? The topic was discussed here this week at a joint meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies and The American Academy of Pediatrics.

Experts from the Medical College of Ohio, in Toledo, and other pediatric institutions conducted a large study on the infant care practices of over 10,000 mother-infant pairs. From their questionnaire-based results, they found that mothers who breastfeed are three times more likely to share their bed with their newborn. The practice of bed sharing appears to be most common among minority cultures, young or unmarried mothers, and those with low income. However, the data did not link the behavior to increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Commonly believed to be linked to SIDS, the practice of bed-sharing has drawn controversy among parents, struggling with the rigors of breastfeeding, and health care providers, many of who encourage the practice of breastfeeding, but not necessarily the practice of bed sharing.

Researchers involved in this study are cautious about taking a pro or con position when it comes to bed sharing. "We know that breastfeeding is good for babies," co-author of the study, Carl E. Hunt, MD, tells WebMD. "But a number of studies have shown that when combined with bed sharing, it can be an unsafe practice."

Such findings recently led the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to discourage parents from placing their infants in adult beds and co-sleeping with their infants.

Most experts who oppose bed sharing are concerned primarily with infant safety. "Skin-to-skin contact is widely thought to enhance bonding and breastfeeding, but the risk of SIDS is just too high," says Ellis Beesley, MD, an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, some reports have shown that when infants sleep with a parent, particularly when the adult has been drinking alcohol or using mind-altering drugs, the infant has an increased risk of being suffocated. Other studies have shown that infants wake more frequently during bed sharing.

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But new mom Stefanie Moran, a proponent of bed sharing, argues: "Co-sleeping with babies makes sense. Until industrialized times, that's what families did. ... Humans were just designed to do that [sleep all together]."

"The issue of bed sharing is complex, and parents who bed share do so for several different reasons," Hunt says. "Not all reasons seem to be associated with an increased risk for unexpected ... [SIDS]."

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