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Parents' Bed

Babies sometimes sleep with their parents. This has pros and cons that you should be aware of.

Many parents bring their baby into their bed to sleep, but for the majority of babies this is not where they always or usually sleep. Bed-sharing mostly happens for part of the night, or for a couple of nights a week. Sleeping with baby in an adult bed (bed-sharing) is common. Studies have found that around 50% of all UK babies have bed-shared by the time they are 3 months old.Reasons to bed-share: why parents sleep with their infants. Ball, 2002.

Official advice discourages bed-sharing when it can be dangerous.

Some studies have found an increased risk of SIDS for babies who sleep with parents.

  • The biggest UK SIDS study (the CESDI study) which collected data between 1993 and 1996 found no increased SIDS risk with bed-sharing for non-smokers, or for babies aged more than 14 weeks.Babies sleeping with parents: case-control study of factors influencing the risk of the sudden infant death syndrome. Blair et al, 1999. Click here for a summary of this research
  • The most recent UK study (conducted between 2003 and 2006) found that smoking, alcohol use and sofa-sharing explained the risk associated with SIDS deaths that happened when babies were co-sleepingClick here to see an explanation of the terms 'co-sleeping' and 'bed-sharing', and how they are used in different contexts with an adult.Hazardous cosleeping environments and risk factors amenable to change: case-control study of SIDS in south west England. Blair et al, 2009. Click here for a summary of this research
  • The Scottish cot-death study (conducted between 1996 and 2000) found that bed-sharing was associated with a greater risk of SIDS for babies aged under 11 weeks. In this study no data are reported for smoking in pregnancy, or alcohol consumption.Bedsharing, Roomsharing, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in Scotland: A case-control study. Tappin et al, 2005. Click here for a summary of this research
  • The Irish cot death study (conducted between 1994 and 2001) found bed-sharing was associated with greater risk of SIDS for babies under 10 weeks of age, but not for babies older than 10 weeks or for babies whose mothers did not smoke in pregnancy.An 8 year study of risk factors for SIDS: bed-sharing versus non-bed-sharing. McGarvey et al, 2006. Click here for a summary of this research

The most recent studies have shown that most bed-sharing deaths happen when an adult sleeping with a baby has been smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs (illegal or over-the-counter medicines) that make them sleep deeply. For more information about what to avoid see here.

If you smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs or medication your baby will have a lower risk of unexpected death if s/he sleeps on a separate surface such as a cot next to your bed.

People bed-share for many reasons; the most common reason is to breastfeed in the night. Breastfed babies need to nurse frequently because human milk is easily digested, and frequent nursing helps mothers to make sufficient milk.

Bed-sharing is strongly associated with breastfeeding: 70-80% of breastfed babies sleep with their mother or parents some of the time in the early months, and many studies have found that mothers and babies who bed-share breastfeed for much longer than those who sleep apart.Recent studies include Bed-Sharing at 3 Months and Breast-Feeding at 1 Year in Southern Brazil. Santos et al, 2009; Randomised trial of sidecar crib use on breastfeeding duration (NECOT). Ball et al, 2011 For more information on breastfeeding and bed-sharing see here.

Other people bed-share for bonding, especially if they have to leave their baby during the day; others do so when their baby is ill, to be able to pay close attention; sometimes people bed-share because they cannot afford a cot/crib.Reasons to bed-share: why parents sleep with their infants. Ball, 2002. You can find out more about why and how people sleep with their babies here.

Sometimes people fall asleep with their babies accidentally or without meaning to. This can be very dangerous, especially if it happens on a couch/sofa where a baby can get wedged or trapped between the adult and the cushions. For more information on sofa-sharing see here.

Before you bed-share, consider whether you are happy it is safe for YOUR baby.

For more detailed information about bed-sharing, click here. You can also find information here on alternatives to bed-sharing, such as the use of bed-side cots / side-car cribs.

Last modified: 30th August 2013