Reader Question: How do you feel about infants sleeping in the same bed as their mother? What does the research say? Can this practice be dangerous?
This is a great question from Teresa and I too have wondered the same thing. When an infant sleeps with their parent or parents this is referred to as bedsharing or even cosleeping. The definition of cosleeping can differ. Some refer to it as sleeping in the same bed and others refer to it when the infant is in the same room but not sleeping in the same bed i.e. they would be in a bassinet next to their parent’s bed. For this blog, I am just going to refer to this practice as bedsharing so we are not confused. I had a neighbor that would sleep in the same bed with her infants. She was from an Asian country and she said that it was tradition for the babies to sleep in the same bed. In fact, Asia has some of the lowest SIDS deaths in the world (Mckenna and Voyle, 2002). I also have known other people who have shared their bed with infants for generations and never had a problem (well one had a hard time getting her little boy to sleep in his own bed when he got older). On the other hand, I have also heard of parents who have slept with their newborn and they rolled over and squished them, I am not sure if that was true of not but after hearing about that it scared me. I wanted to see what the research said about this practice in order to answer the question correctly.
According to studies there are different reasons why infants sleep in the same bed as their mothers. Many mothers breastfeed and like the convenience of being able to do so on command; therefore they have their baby sleep in their bed (Senter et. al, 2011). According to a recent research study on SIDS, researchers estimated that of the 88 SIDS cases they studied 66% were bedsharing at the time of death (Senter et. al, 2011). Senter also stated that most studies report the risk of death significantly higher for bedsharing infants compared to those sleeping in cribs. “Bedsharing itself can pose a serious risk due to the potential for overlay of the infant by the bedsharer or wedging of the infant between the wall and bed (Senter et. al, 2011).” It is best for the baby to sleep in their own crib. However, in some cases due to income, parents do not have a place to put their newborn, therefore, they end up sharing their bed (McKenna et and Volpe, 2007). In 2007, NYC adapted The Cribs for Kids national program to help prevent sleep-related deaths. In addition they provide safe sleep education and a safe crib to low income families. Since the program rolled out there has been 3,148 cribs distributed to those families in need. Further studies are being conducted to collect data on this prevention measure. (Senter et. al, 2011).
SIDS is not the only reason to be concerned with bedsharing. According to Dr. Calvin A. Colarusso, as the infant learns to crawl, walk, and talk, they move away from their patents both physically and psychologically (Stein et. al, 2001). As they become toddlers they start to develop a sense of self that is distinct from their mothers or fathers. Colarusso continues by stating “bedsharing, particularly when it continues into the second year of life and beyond, impedes the development of this necessary movement toward autonomy and independence and encourages an unhealthy, exaggerated dependence on mother and father (Stein et. al, 2001).” Alternatively, Dr. James McKenna feels that when practiced SAFELY and by choice, mothers and infants sleeping side by side is potentially ideal for promoting breastfeeding and healthy social relationships among family members. McKenna states that infants need to respond to a mother’s night time smell, touch, sound and movements and bedsharing is alright when done properly (Stein et. al, 2001). After reading the research, it appears there are pros and cons. I could probably write ten more posts on this issue because it is very debatable. However, because I am such a cautious person, and I feel the negative outweighs the positive aspects, I personally would think twice before bedsharing with my infant.
McKenna, J.J., & Volpe, L.E. (2007). Sleeping with baby: an internet-based sampling of parental experiences, choices, perceptions, and interpretations in a western industrialized context. Infant and Child Development, 16 (4), 359-385.
Senter, Lindsay, Sackoff, Judith, Landi, Kristen, & Boyd, Lorraine (2011). Studying Sudden and Unexpected Infant Deaths in a time of Changing Death Certification and Investigation Practices: Evaluating Sleep-Related Risk Factors for Infant Death in New York City. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 15(2), 242-248.
Stein, Martin T., Calarusso, Calvin A., McKenna, James J., & Powers, Nancy G. (2001). Cosleeping (Bedsharing) Among Infants and Toddlers. Pediatrics, 107(4), 873-877.