Sharing a bed with your baby increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, UK study shows

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 20 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3296
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

Advice to mothers that it is safe to sleep with their babies should be reconsidered, say the authors of a new study, which shows that it multiplies the risk of sudden infant death.1

Current recommendations in the United Kingdom are that it is safe to share a bed with a baby so long as neither parent smokes or has taken alcohol or drugs. But a new analysis of data from five previous studies, published in BMJ Open, has found that even if these conditions apply, the risk of the baby dying is much higher when bed sharing—five times higher for babies under 3 months old.

The authors, led by Robert Carpenter of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, estimate that 88% of sudden infant deaths that occur while bed sharing would not have occurred if bed sharing had been avoided. They say that over the past 10 years, there has been a marked increase in bed sharing, prompted by charities such as the National Childbirth Trust. According to the trust, bed sharing aids breastfeeding and the risks are “probably negligible” if both parents avoid smoking, alcohol, and drugs, and if they sleep in a bed rather than on a sofa.

Earlier studies calculated the risks of sudden infant death syndrome differently, which made the risks difficult to compare. As a result, the authors of the new study went back to the raw data from five case-control studies to create a combined dataset of 1472 cases of sudden infant death syndrome and 4679 controls. The data came from a trans-European study and national studies in Scotland, New Zealand, Ireland, and Germany, and included babies aged up to 1 year.

The authors concluded that even in the best of circumstances (that is, breastfed infants and no parental risk factors), the risk of sudden infant death syndrome was 2.7 times higher (95% confidence interval 1.4 to 5.3) if babies shared a bed with parents rather than sharing a room. In the worst circumstances (that is, bottle fed babies and both parents were smokers and drinkers), this risk was 15.6 times higher (5.7 to 41.5).

The current recommendations are not effective and should be modified to take a more definitive stance against bed sharing for babies under 3 months, the authors wrote. “We do not suggest that babies should not be brought into the parent’s bed for comfort and feeding. This has been investigated in previous studies and has not been found to be a risk factor, provided the infant is returned to his or her own cot for sleep.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3296