Read an interesting study recently on bed-sharing among parents and infants and thought what better way to get the word out to the public than through nurses?
It seems the practice of letting babies sleep in an adult bed with a parent or caregiver is increasing in the United States, according to the study by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
Why the fuss? Who doesn’t love to cuddle with their sweet-smelling baby?
Bed sharing, although common in many cultures, is controversial in this country. While proponents claim benefits, such as more and longer periods of breastfeeding, there are hidden hazards in letting babies sleep on adult beds, including falls, suffocation, and getting trapped between the bed and a wall, the headboard or footboard.
The study appears in the January 2003 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The National Infant Sleep Position Study, funded by NICHD and Boston University, shows that the proportion of infants usually sharing an adult bed at night increased from 5.5 percent to 12.8 percent between 1993 and 2000. Nearly 50 percent of infants in the study spent at least some time in the past two weeks sleeping on an adult bed at night. In addition, African American infants were four times more likely to bed share as white infants, and Asian/other infants were almost three times more likely to bed share than white infants.
A second study, appearing in the same journal, found almost 50 percent of mothers in a predominantly low-income, inner city population reported their infant usually shared a bed with a parent or other adult during the infant’s first year of life.
Both studies suggest that bed sharing appears to be widespread and strongly influenced by cultural factors.
Other findings: Infants of mothers under 18 years old were twice as likely as other infants to share a bed with a parent or caregiver, and low household income also increased the likelihood of bed sharing by 50 percent.
Proponents argue that bed sharing contributes to more and longer periods of breastfeeding, and that bed sharing may protect infants from succumbing to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by increasing infant awakenings, decreasing the time spent in deep sleep, and increasing the mother’s awareness of the infant.
Opponents to the practice of bed sharing cite the potential hazards of bed sharing or sleeping on an adult bed, sofa, or other non-juvenile furniture. These include suffocation in soft bedding or pillows, entrapment between the bed and wall or involving the bed frame, headboard or footboard, and bed sharers rolling over onto the infants.
Studies that assessed the risk of SIDS associated with bed sharing have not found bed sharing to be protective. Some studies have shown an increased risk for SIDS associated with bed sharing under the following conditions: cigarette smoking, recent maternal alcohol consumption, infant covered by a comforter and parental fatigue.
The researchers did not obtain information on the reasons for bed sharing, but the bottom line is this: it’s not a good idea. According to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, "asphyxiation" (which is essentially suffocation/strangulation/choking lumped together) is usually the second leading cause of accidental death to young children every year, surpassed only by motor vehicle crashes. Numerous fatalities have been documented by that office over the years involving children who have died sleeping in adult beds.
Of course, none of this even addresses the issue of how one gets Little Johnny out of his or her bed after he has gotten used to the constant company of his parents.
Please advise your patients to invest in a good crib for their infant. If they cannot afford a new one and opt for a hand-me-down, garage sale or thrift store find, just be sure it meets the current federal standards: slat space 2 3/8 inches or less, no corner post extensions, snug fitting mattress, etc. To find out if a crib has been recalled, go to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Web site: www.cpsc.gov.
A crib is the one place where infants spend lots of unsupervised time – it has got to be safe.