Thursday, May 23, 2013

Is bed-sharing unsafe?

The other day I read that "Bed-sharing raises cot death (SIDS) risk fivefold". You probably know that we have been co-sleeping (as in bed-sharing) with BlueEyes since he was about 5 months and we might co-sleep with prospective baby from a much earlier age. So I thought "Yikes!" when I read this press release about a study by Carpenter et al. However, there are a number of limitations to this study, which have been nicely summarized by here at This is the summary of ten important variables that have not been included in this paper:
  1. The researchers importantly did not consider whether the bedsharing was planned. Previous research from Venneman (2009) showed no increased risk in planned bedsharing (versus unplanned). This is an incredibly important omission.
  2. The paper did not consider the effects of the mother smoking during pregnancy, only smoking post birth. This is a missing risk factor.
  3. Breastfeeding information is too limited to draw conclusions. No difference has been drawn between frequency and percentage of breastfeeds versus formula feeds for those ‘partially feeding’.
  4. The paper only considered ‘illegal drug use’. Many postnatal mothers (0-12weeks after the birth) are prescribed analgesic medication for related birth induced injuries including but not limited to Caesarean healing, known to have a sedative effect. This was not considered at all.  This is a missing risk factor.
  5. Prematurity was not considered at all. This is a missing risk factor.
  6. Parental exhaustion was not considered at all. Some experts suggest this is considered to be less than 4-5 hours sleep in the past 24 hour period, other experts advise parents to use their instinct. Parental exhaustion naturally impacts on responsive to infant cues. This is a missing risk factor.
  7. The researchers did not examine the effect of maternal (and paternal) obesity. This is a missing risk factor.
  8. No differentiation was made between having one or both parents in the bed and importantly the location of the baby. It is advisable that the mother sleeps in between the father and infant. Equally it was not noted if older siblings were also present in the bed. This is a missing risk factor.
  9. The researchers did not consider fully the impact of alcohol consumption by the father when bedsharing. This is a missing risk factor.
  10. No mention was made of whether parents were aware of the risks of bedsharing and how to minimize these before sharing a bed with their infant.
And to end, here are guidelines for safe co-sleeping from James McKenna's lab website.

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