New recommendations in bedsharing debate

April 29, 2013

Researchers from Murdoch University’s School of Health Professions are urging health organisations to reconsider their attitudes to mothers and babies bedsharing.

Associate Professor Catherine Fetherston said Australian and overseas agencies’ warnings against bedsharing were not well supported by evidence and did not meet the needs of mothers and babies.

“Current policies are focussed on risk elimination – ‘do not sleep with your baby, because they might die’ – when really there is no research that shows an inherent risk for bedsharing and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS),” Professor Fetherston said.

“What we should be focusing on is minimising the known risks associated with SIDS and bedsharing, such as parents who smoke or are affected by alcohol and drugs.”

She said a recent Alaskan study found that 99 per cent of bedsharing deaths involved either maternal smoking or sleeping with someone affected by substances.

Professor Fetherston said another critical risk factor was unsuitable environments, which could involve too much soft bedding, sleeping with siblings or pets and sofa-sleeping.

“Often when researchers look at bedsharing, they include sofa-sharing or armchair-sharing, which have been shown to be very dangerous, with a number of associated deaths,” she said.

“In fact, when you remove deaths associated with sofa-sharing from the analysis, the rate of bedsharing deaths is lower than the rate found in babies sleeping by themselves in cots.”

She added that more could be done by agencies to highlight breastfeeding’s role in protecting against SIDS, saying breastfed babies who bedshared benefited physiologically, with more stable temperatures and heart rhythms, better oxygen saturation and fewer pauses in breathing.

“While we accept the need for preventative strategies to reduce sleep-related infant deaths, we believe health agencies should shift from absolute messages discouraging bedsharing to messages that address known risk factors.

“This more ethical approach will provide parents with information that minimises the risk for SIDS and still allows them to bedshare if they wish to.”

‘Analysis of the ethical issues in the breastfeeding and bedsharing debate’ has been published in Breastfeeding Review.

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Comments (5 responses)

Tanya April 30, 2013

I was terrified to bed share with my oldest because the doctors made me think that I would kill my daughter. This made for a very stressful time. She was colicky and cried non-stop. I also gave up breastfeeding at a month because it was to hard. I would try to breastfeed her in the middle of the night sitting up in a chair and I would fall asleep with her in my arms. Now that IS dangerous! If I would have known that life and our breastfeeding relationship would have been better with co-sleeping, I would have done it. With the baby I have now (13 months), we bed shared but, we did it by "side-carring" the crib to the bed so that she had her own space, but still was arms length away. Doing this took all the anxiety of smothering her away. She was also colicky, but seemed better at night when she was close. It was amazing for our breastfeeding relationship. I would wake at the slightest head shake (rooting) from her, before she cried, pull her over, feed her, and then put her back. I loved having her so close. It took all the stress away! And I got more sleep so I could care for her better the next day.

Tanya April 30, 2013

It is important to think of mom and baby, especially concerning breastfeeding, as one unit. To separate them for sleep, can be stressful for mom, and traumatic for baby. It is true baby will survive, but why cause that anxiety for no reason?

Meredith May 1, 2013

Animals sleeping in children's beds is something I would like to see more research about. I feel it's an extremely dangerous practice no matter what the age of the child or type of the animal.

Kristy Pillinger - Editor of Nurture May 1, 2013

Thank-you for this article! It has long been needed for someone with clout to stand up and say that bedsharing is beneficial to the relations, provided it is done safely.

Chris Taplin May 21, 2013

I agree that the risk of SID's is no greater, however the risk if suffocating your child is far far greater!! I know this from the experiance of having to responding to a couple if calls where this has happened!
Ask these parents what they think of co sleeping!
In my mind its not worth the risk.
We had all of our children in the Moses basket next to our bed for 3-4 months then in to there cot, in there rooms.

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