Many parents find bringing their babies into bed helps make nights a little easier. But a recent statement by the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) has called bed sharing into question: “For the first year of life, the safest place for babies to sleep is in their own crib, and in the parent’s room for the first six months,” says the statement.
Dr. Denis Leduc is one of the authors of the statement and is former chair of the CPS community paediatrics committee. Leduc explains that in recent years there’s been an increased pursuit of the causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). While we can’t yet identify the exact causes of these unexpected deaths, researchers continue to identify specific risk factors.
It’s difficult for health professionals and parents alike to weigh the risks, the odds and the evidence against the reality of family life. If, for instance, you’re breastfeeding your baby — which Leduc says in and of itself is probably protective against SIDS — and getting up frequently throughout the night to get the baby from the crib and then struggling to stay awake while you feed him, chances are you’ll end up tired and frustrated. Should a mom who brings a baby into bed to nurse more comfortably and then drifts off to sleep worry that she is putting her baby at risk?
The CPS statement acknowledges that bed sharing is widespread and has, in fact, increased in Canada. (In 1999, almost 83 percent of 1,500 parents responding to a Today’s Parent survey said they shared sleep with their babies at least some of the time.) So, how does Leduc respond to a parent who wants to know how to bed-share safely? Leduc says parents have to know the risk factors associated with SIDS. “The evidence we have doesn’t allow me to recommend bed sharing, but if you eliminate all the risk factors that have been identified — if you’ve never smoked, if you don’t drink or take drugs, if the family bed is really free of all of the things that a baby could get wrapped up or tangled in, if it’s a firm mattress and not a waterbed — then bed sharing is in all likelihood safe.”
Risk Factors and Precautions
Risk factors specific to bedsharing include:
Drinking and drug use. Don’t sleep with your baby if you are impaired in any way.
Entrapment possibilities. There must be no chance of the baby falling from the bed, or getting caught in cracks between the mattress and bed frame or wall.
In addition, the CPS recommends the following safety precautions for all babies:
• Babies should always be placed to sleep on their backs. Since the inception of the “Back to Sleep” campaign in Canada, the number of SIDS deaths has dropped by 50 percent.
• Keep your baby’s sleep environment free of comforters, quilts, bumper pads, pillows and pillow-like items.
• Babies should sleep on a firm mattress. Never put a baby to sleep on a waterbed or air mattress, or sleep with your baby on a couch, recliner or in a padded chair.
• Maternal smoking during pregnancy and after the birth increases the risk of SIDS. In his practice, Leduc specifically advises mothers who smoked during their pregnancy against bedsharing.