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SIDS and Sleeping With Your Infant, Good Idea or Bad?

SIDS and sleeping with your infant

New parents want to be close to their new baby, but sleeping with a young child may not be a good idea. According to a new study published in BMJ Open, there is a fivefold increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) among younger children who sleep with their parents, even if their parents do not drink, smoke, or use drugs.

How parents increase the risk of SIDS

No matter how you look at the situation, parents who do not sleep with their very young children are significantly less likely to lose a child to SIDS, according to a new study from experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In fact, 90 percent of SIDS related deaths could have been prevented if the parents or caregivers had not slept in the same bed with the child.

Here are the findings of the study, which consider results from five major case-control trials performed in several countries and fuel prior results concerning the prevalence of SIDS among young children who sleep in the same bed with a parent or caregiver. A total of 4,679 participants acted as controls and 1,472 infants died of SIDS.

  • The estimated absolute risk for SIDS among young children who share a bed was 0.23 per 1,000 births compared with 0.08 per 1,000 births among those who did not
  • 22.2 percent of babies who died from SIDS had been sleeping in a bed with parents or a caregiver at the time they died
  • 9.6 percent of parents or caregivers in the control group had shared a bed with their child

Earlier studies had indicated that when both parents smoked, there was a 65-fold increased risk for SIDS when compared with infants who shared a room (but not a bed) with parents who did not smoke. Smoking appears to be a significant contributor to SIDS.

Infants of women who consumed more than two alcoholic drinks daily and who then shared a bed with their infant had an 89-fold increased risk of SIDS when they were two weeks older, and a 38-fold increased risk when the infants were 10 weeks old.

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Use of illicit drugs (e.g., cocaine, marijuana, heroin) or inappropriate consumption of alcohol among pregnant women was associated with an increased risk of SIDS. Overall, the authors reported that medical professionals and scientific studies indicate that professionals “should take a more definite stand against bed-sharing, especially for babies under 3 months.”

The message from the authors of the study is that parents who want to be close to their young children should practice room sharing rather than bed sharing, especially when their children are younger than three months old. Parents who smoke and/or who consume alcohol should definitely avoid sharing a bed with their young child.

Room sharing provides new parents with the opportunity to carefully monitor their young child without exposing him or her to the risks associated with bed sharing. It also allows parents intimacy without the physical presence of their child.

Other causes of SIDS
In addition to bed sharing, which exposes young children to more opportunities to experience impaired breathing because of the large amount of soft spaces that can interfere with breathing, other causes of or risk factors for SIDS may include the following:

  • Sleeping on soft or fluffy surfaces or bedding
  • Sleeping on the stomach or side
  • Presence of a respiratory infection
  • Low birth weight
  • Brain abnormalities in areas that correspond to breathing and arousal from sleep
  • Problems with an infant’s ability to detect an accumulation of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream)
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke in utero (while still in the womb) or after birth
  • Premature birth
  • Being born to a teenage mother
  • Lack of or late prenatal care

Parents who share a bed with their infant significantly increase the risk of SIDS. Therefore, based on the findings of this new study, parents should consider room sharing rather than sleeping with their child in the same bed to help prevent the occurrence of SIDS.

Carpenter RG et al. Bed sharing when parents do not smoke: is there a risk of SIDS? An individual level analysis of five major case-control studies. BMJ Open 2013; DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002299

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