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Bed sharing increases risk of cot death

Rates of sudden infant death would plummet if parents avoided bed sharing finds new UK study
By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
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21st May 2013 - Parents who share a bed with their breastfed baby could face a fivefold increase in the risk of cot death, even if they don't smoke.

The new research published in BMJ Open analysed five major studies into cot death and was led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Professor Bob Carpenter, lead author on the study, says in a prepared comment: "Currently in the UK more than half of cot deaths occur while a baby is sleeping in the same bed as its parents. Although it is clear that smoking and drinking greatly increase the risk of cot death while bed sharing, our study shows that there is in fact an increased risk for all babies under three months who bed share, even if their parents do not smoke or drink."

In response to the study Francine Bates, chief executive of the safer baby sleep charity, The Lullaby Trust (formerly FSID), says: "Professor Carpenter is the leading statistician working in the field of sudden infant death research and we welcome his substantial new paper." She says the trust will be incorporating his new findings into the evidence base which informs its recommendations.

Cot death

While the rate of cot death - also known as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) -  has fallen sharply following advice to parents to place babies to sleep on their backs,  it remains the major cause of infant death in the postneonatal period (28 days through to the first birthday) in developed countries.

There is already a general consensus that sleeping with a baby increases the risk of cot death if the parents smoke or if the mother has been drinking alcohol or taking drugs. However, there are conflicting opinions as to whether bed sharing in general represents a risk when these factors are not present. 

Some countries, including the US and the Netherlands, advise all parents against sharing a bed with their baby for the first three months. The UK currently only advises certain groups, including parents who are smokers and those who have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, not to bed share.

According to the parenting charity NCT, bed sharing for part of the night is one way to get more rest and also makes it possible for a mother to breastfeed while she has a dose or a sleep.  It says around half of all UK mums co-sleep with their baby at some time.

New study

The new study is the largest ever analysis of its kind. Researchers examined the individual records of 1,472 cot death cases and 4,679 control cases across five major studies from the UK, Europe and Australasia. They found that the risk of cot death 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 fivefold increase was in comparison to room sharing, where a baby slept in a cot in the parents' room.

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