Intended for healthcare professionals


Bed sharing and sudden infant death syndrome

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 19 February 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:537
  1. A J Bourne,
  2. S M Beal,
  3. R W Byard
  1. Adelaide Children's Hospital, North Adelaide, South Australia 5006, Australia

    EDITOR, - We agree with R Scragg and colleagues that the role of bed sharing in the sudden infant death syndrome needs further clarification.1 Our view is based on our experience in South Australia, which has a population of about 1.46 million and where virtually all postmortem examinations in cases of the syndrome are carried out at Adelaide Children's Hospital.

    Since a large publicity campaign in South Australia in 1991 regarding the increased risk of the sudden infant death syndrome associated with the prone sleeping position the incidence of infants dying of the syndrome has fallen considerably (table). At the same time there has been a rise not only in relative terms but also in the absolute numbers of infants whose death was attributed to the syndrome and who were found dead in bed with one or both parents.

    Number of cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and number in which infant shared bed with parent in South Australia, 1983-93

    View this table:

    In July 1988 one of us (SMB) conducted a postal survey of the usual sleeping environment of 220 consecutively registered infants in South Australia when the infants had reached the age of 12 weeks; 197 replies were obtained. The results were: bassinet 89 infants; cot 59; crib 39; pram 4; parent's bed 3 (1.5%); capsule 1; other unspecified 2. The survey indicated that even at that time infants sharing the parental bed were overrepresented in the population dying of the sudden infant death syndrome.

    Despite Scragg and colleagues' conclusion our own experience suggests that consumption of alcohol by the parent sleeping with the infant on the night of death may be a factor and is worthy of further study.

    Clearly, more multi-centre studies are needed to determine with certainty whether bed sharing by itself or in conjunction with other factors is a risk factor for the sudden infant death syndrome. This is particularly so given that some groups have actively promoted bed sharing.


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