Borchardt Consulting

Dr. Nancy What Were You Thinking?

Posted on: August 12, 2011

NBC’s Today Show recently ran a story entitled “New study: Parent/child bed-sharing is OK”.  If you haven’t seen it, please watch the link.

NBC News chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman and psychiatrist Dr. Joshua Weiner talk about a new study that says it is OK for children to sleep in their parents’ bed at night.  The problem with this story is that the study was intended to demonstrate the long-term effects on children who bedshare with their parents. Unfortunately, this discussion wasn’t very clear on how unsafe the practice is for infants.

First, let’s be clear on terms.  The term bed-sharing is used when parents sleep in bed with their children.  It also is sometimes referred to as the family bed.  Adults and children (including infants) share the same sleep surface.

Room-sharing is the term used when infants and/or children sleep in the same room as the parents in close proximity but in their own bed or crib.

The term co-sleeping is the term used for both bed-sharing and room-sharing.  This term is rarely used by researchers because it is too general.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and most SIDS related organizations do not recommend bedsharing for parents in the United States who use the typical bedding found in American bedrooms.  It has been well documented that the risk for a sleep related death increases dramatically for infants in the adult bed.  Their is a 40 times greater risk of death than for an infant in her own safe crib.

The greatest risks to infants actually occurs with what is called “chaotic bed-sharing”.  This is a term used for an unplanned sleep time where the infant is brought into the adult bed without the adult pre-planning the shared sleep space.  Every parent has experienced that night when she just needs to get a little sleep and the infant is not cooperating.  So, Mom or Dad brings the baby into bed out of desperation in order to just get a few minutes of sleep before another day begins.

There is plenty of conversations from anthropologists and bed-sharing proponents that tell us that parents have slept with their infants all over the world for centuries.  That is completely true.  However, sometimes our evolutionary habits outlast the need.  We no longer have to keep our infants close for fear of lions.  Nor do we have to keep them close to keep them warm.

In most cultures where bed-sharing is the norm, the bed does not resemble an American style bed.  Today’s parents generally don’t sleep on a thin pallet on the floor without the benefit of pillows and blankets.

When the parents sleep, that is the longest time that a helpless newborn is unattended.  Therefore, it is imperative that the newborn is in a safe microenvironment.  Studies of infant deaths confirm that sleep related deaths most often occur in unsafe sleep environments.

Do parents bed-share – Yes!  Do most babies live – Yes!  Do toddlers or children suffer pychological damage for bed-sharing – No!  But, sleeping with an infant in an adult bed is definitely risky behavior.  Can it be done without tragic consequences?  Yes!   But, unfortunately, accidents happen.  Parents have to consider the risks for they are real.


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