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Get informed on infant sleep

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New research shows many more American parents are allowing their babies to share their bed than in previous years. Experts are divided over whether the trend is healthy. There are two distinct camps, those who believe the practice can cause suffocation and those who espouse that an infant who shares an adult bed will have closer bonds with his or her parents.

We're neither medical nor psychological experts, thus we make no recommendations regarding what we believe is family business. Our hope is that the medical and public health communities make patients aware of the possible risks of this practice so families can make informed choices.

Experts say the reasons for bed-sharing may range from financial difficulties that prevent the parent from purchasing the child his own bed, family habit or the desire to enable nursing mothers to feed their babies without having to get up in the night. Some speculate that working parents at all income levels are attempting to regain hours of closeness they lose by being at work all day. Research shows the practice is far more prevalent among teenage mothers and poor households.

While some experts claim the comfort and closeness babies get from sleeping with their mothers renders them more independent and better able to deal with stress, others cite studies that showed a strong connection between sudden infant deaths and bed-sharing. A St. Louis study, for instance, found in 50 percent of the sudden infant deaths, bed-sharing was involved.

While the up-side of this practice is more difficult to quantify, some researchers say that mothers who sleep with their babies coordinate their cycles and are less likely to be dragged out of deep sleep by a sobbing child. Some go so far as to espouse that fewer sleep interruptions means fewer incidents of child abuse.

Families will make their own judgments. Our hope is that health-care providers will make them aware of the realm of possibilities resulting from this practice, and thus parents can make the best possible choices concerning the welfare of their children.