Researchers found that the risk of SIDS among breastfed babies under three months increased with bed sharing, even when the parents did not smoke and the mother had not consumed alcohol or drugs.
This five-fold increase was in comparison to room sharing, where a baby slept in a cot in the parents’ room.
The study, published in the BMJ Open this week, also showed that the risk associated with bed sharing decreases as a baby gets older.
Importantly the risk of SIDS was very low for babies whose mothers follow the current New Zealand advice: “no smoking in pregnancy and around baby, sleep baby on the back, have baby in a cot in the parental bedroom and breastfeed if possible.”
“SIDS remains a major cause of death among babies under one year of age in New Zealand and other high income countries,” says one of the study’s authors, Professor Ed Mitchell, a University of Auckland paediatrician who holds the Cure Kids chair in Child Health.
There was already a general consensus that sleeping with a baby increases the risk of SIDS if the parents smoke or if the mother has been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, he says. There were conflicting opinions as to whether bed sharing in general represented a risk when these factors were not present.
Some countries, including the United States and the Netherlands, advised all parents against sharing a bed with their baby for the first three months. The United Kingdom only advisedcertain groups, including parents who are smokers, not to bed share.
In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health advises that “the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot besides the parental bed for the first six months of the infant’s life”, says Professor Mitchell, who initiated the study.
He says that in New Zealand more than 50 percent of deaths occur while parents slept in the same bed as baby.
“If parents were made aware of the risks of sleeping with their baby, and room sharing was instead promoted in the same way that the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign was promoted 20 years ago to advise parents to place their newborn infants to sleep on their backs, we could achieve a substantial reduction in SIDS rates.”
“Parents need to know the risks from bed sharing, especially for babies under three months,” says Professor Mitchell. “Health professionals have a duty to inform them. Innovative strategies such as the wahakura and pepi-pod provide alternatives to bed sharing, and are attracting interest overseas.”
The study authors state that babies can still be brought into the parents’ bed for comfort and feeding during the night, but that they should be placed in a cot next to the parents’ bed to sleep.
The new study is the largest ever analysis of its kind. Researchers examined the individual records of 1,472 SIDS cases and 4,679 control cases across five major studies.
The University of Auckland