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The Trouble With Bed-Sharing

Study highlights growing bed-sharing trends, despite its many dangers

A recent study is highlighting a growing but worrisome trend among new parents. And no, it's not about putting babies on diets or researching preschools while your kid is still in the womb. (This time.) It's about that whole bed-sharing business...

If the idea of bed-sharing with your kid doesn't exactly strike you as problematic at first blush, you're not alone in your thinking. Lots of parents wind up co-sleeping for a million different reasons, whether they set out to or not. Maybe it's what your parents did with you and it just felt natural. Or maybe you've got one of those kids who just won't sleep in his crib. Or hey, maybe you breast-feed and it's just way easier to deal with middle-of-the-night wake-up calls when your kid has direct access to your boob.

But does that mean it's actually safe?

Public health officials have been strongly urging parents against sleeping with babies or small children for years, citing significant SIDS links—and it sounds like no one's listening. According to a recent report in JAMA Pediatrics, the bed-sharing numbers have actually more than doubled since 1990.

"That in and of itself is kind of shocking ... because the recommendations have long been out," says SIDS expert Dr. Fern R. Hauck, a family medicine professor at the University of Virginia who spoke with Reuters.

The government first began looking into infant sleep practices way back in 1993, after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that infants sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS. The extensive study combed over telephone surveys from 1993 to 2010 involving nearly 19,000 parents who had infants up to 7 months old.

All in all, 14 percent of adults (mostly moms) surveyed in 2010 said their babies usually shared a bed instead of drifting off to sleep in their own crib. This usually occurred with another parent or child present, too, and was an increase over the 7 percent that admitted to bed-sharing in 1993. But that jump wasn't across the board; it was mainly among Hispanics and blacks. And of the black families surveyed, a considerable one-third admitted to bed-sharing regularly. For white families, the practice increased in the '90s, but has since leveled off. Researchers were most alarmed to uncover this tidbit, though: More than half the participants since 2006 said doctors had never even mentioned bed-sharing or its risks to them.

Still, there are some experts out there who claim we're looking at the wrong problem.

Dr. Abraham Bergman, a pediatrician from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, penned an editorial published with the new study. In it, he said it was "disquieting" that the study's authors directly link bed-sharing to SIDS deaths, without considering other factors first.

"To me the data just aren't there to support" the recommendation against bed sharing, he told Reuters.

So what other factors could be at play? According to Bergman, it's not the bed-sharing part we should be worried about—it's a parent's obesity, as well as alcohol and drug use, that put a baby at a far bigger risk while co-sleeping than anything else. "One has to be prudent about it," he says.

But Dr. Hauck, who's also a member of the AAP Task Force on SIDS, disagrees.

"The recommendation to not bed-share was made very, very carefully, because we know how big it is. It's an emotional thing for people," Hauck said.

And as she points out, there was significant "evidence [in the study] that even among women who were breast-feeding, even among women who would otherwise be considered low-risk, who were not smoking, bed-sharing does increase the risk of SIDS."

Where do you fall on the bed-sharing debate?

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