Risks and Benefits of Sharing a Bed

Bedsharing with babies increased breastfeeding in new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) One of the challenges of having a newborn is getting up throughout the night for feedings. Some women who breastfeed may choose to sleep alongside their baby in the same bed.

A recent study found that sharing a bed with a baby increased the likelihood that the mother would breastfeed her child for a longer period of time.

However, past research has shown that bedsharing can increase the risks of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep on a separate sleeping surface in the parents' room.

"Talk with your doctor about a breastfeeding strategy."

This study, led by Yi Huang, PhD, of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, looked at the influence of bedsharing on breastfeeding rates.

The researchers analyzed data gained from questionnaires sent to 1,846 US mothers who were breastfeeding their babies when the children were 2 weeks old.

The mothers had been mailed questionnaires when the children were 1 through 7 months old and then at 9, 10 and 12 months old. They answered at least one question related to bedsharing on these questionnaires.

The researchers then compared rates of bedsharing to the length of exclusive breastfeeding among the mothers.

Bedsharing was defined as a mother and her baby sleeping in the same bed together, excluding attached bedside co-sleeper devices.

Over one year of follow-up, the researchers found that the more often the mothers shared a bed with their child, the more months they breastfed their child.

"Mothers who bedshared often were much more likely to breastfeed longer compared with mothers who bedshared less frequently or not at all," the researchers wrote.

However, sharing a bed was not linked to a longer amount of time spent exclusively breastfeeding a child (up to 6 months old).

"Breastfeeding duration was longer among women who were better educated, were white, had previously breastfed, had planned to breastfeed and had not returned to work in the first year postpartum," the researchers wrote.

Thomas Seman, MD, a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, Mass., said the conclusions of this study should be considered with caution.

"Studies continued to prove that breastfeeding is by far the best source of nutrition for infants under the age of one year," Dr. Seman said. "It is true that any possible way of increasing the rate of breast-feeding should be considered."

However, he notes, some activities that can lead to one benefit still can have other effects that increase different risks.

"This study clearly shows a relationship to increasing the longevity of breast-feeding in moms who cosleep or bedsore. However, the risk of SIDS should be considered a more significant issue than breastfeeding," he said.

"The proximity of the child to the breastfeeding mother and the relaxed nature of being in bed with child is obviously conducive to perpetuating breastfeeding for a longer period of time," he said. "I do wonder if having the bed next to the parent – but still out of the parental bed – would demonstrate a similar result."

Dr. Seman said the definition of "cosleeping" is fairly broad.

"The benefits of an infant sleeping in the parents' bedroom has been shown to exist," he said. "If we consider a child sleeping in close proximity to the parent without actually sharing the bed, we would most likely find that breastfeeding will increase in this group, and the benefits of sleeping in the room would continue to enhance the child's growth and development."

Bedsharing is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) because of research showing an increased risk of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) for babies who share a bed with their parents.

The AAP recommends that babies sleep in a crib in the parents' room.

The AAP also recommends that women exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of the baby's life.

This study was published September 23 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The research was funded by several agencies in the US Department of Health and Human Services. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 23, 2013
Last Updated:
October 11, 2013