Despite Risks, Bed-Sharing with Infants is Rising, Study Finds

Posted on: November 6, 2013 Topics: biostatistics

Two BU School of Public Health researchers were part of a team that reported an increase, most notably among minorities, in the practice of infant bed-sharing, which has been discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The research team, which included Timothy Heeren, professor of biostatistics at BUSPH, and Denis Rybin, statistical coordinator at the Data Coordinating Center, found that bed-sharing between parents and infants continued to rise in popularity in the past 20 years, most notably among blacks and Hispanics.

The study was led by Dr. Eve R. Colson of Yale University, with Dr. Michael J. Corwin, senior epidemiologist at BU’s Slone Epidemiology Center, among the contributing authors.

“Strong associations between bed-sharing and sudden infant death syndrome or unintentional sleep-related death in infants have been established. Occurrences of unintentional sleep-related deaths appear to be increasing,” the researchers reported online in JAMA Pediatrics.

The current recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics is for infants to sleep in the same room, but not the same bed, with parents.

The study found that among blacks, the percentage who reported bed-sharing in 1993 was 21.2 percent, which rose to 38.7 percent in 2010. For Hispanics, the corresponding percentages were 12.5 percent and 20.5 percent.

At the same time, 4.9 percent of whites reported bed-sharing in 1993, rising to 9.1 percent in 2010.

“We found that black infants, who are at highest risk of sudden infant death syndrome and accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed, share a bed most often,” the research team said. “Compared with white infants, black infants are 3.5 times more likely to share a bed and are more likely than any other race or ethnicity examined in this study to do so.

“Although this trend has not increased in the most recent years (2001-2010) for white infants, bed sharing continues to increase for black infants.”

A previous report from the National Infant Sleep Position (NISP) study suggested that in the years 1993 to 2000, about 45 percent of parents were sleeping with their infants at least occasionally, and that factors associated with this included race, maternal age, lower income, and prematurity.

To examine more recent trends, Colson’s team analyzed additional NISP data, which is derived from annual telephone surveys of households with an infant younger than 7 months.

Additional factors that were associated with increased likelihood of bed-sharing included the mother’s having less than a high school education, having an income below $20,000, and premature birth.

Receiving advice against bed-sharing was associated with a significantly lower risk of sleeping with the infant, compared with not having discussed this with a physician.

“Changing behaviors can be challenging, and previous work has shown that multiple factors affect parent report of infant care practices, such as receiving information from and trusting healthcare providers,” the team said.