Babies sometimes sleep with their parents. This has pros and cons 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 and it may happen intentionally or accidentally. Studies have found that around 50% of all UK babies have bed-shared by the time they are 3 months old.
Some studies have found a greater chance of SIDS among babies who slept with their parents, but the most recent studies have found that this association between bed-sharing and SIDS is strongest when certain hazards are present (smoking, alcohol/drugs, sofas), and is absent or very weak when these hazards are avoided.
- 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.
- The most recent UK study (the Southwest Infant Sleep Study (SWISS)) (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-sleeping with an adult.
- 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.
- 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 during pregnancy.
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 during 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 mothers 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. 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. 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 especially dangerous 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.