More U.S. infants sharing beds with parents

Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 10:27 a.m.

CHICAGO - More infants in the United States are sleeping in their parents' beds - a practice that can be deadly for babies.

The percentage of infants who usually slept in a bed with an adult more than doubled from 5.5 percent to 12.8 percent between 1993 and 2000, according to a study led by Marian Willinger of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The practice is strongly influenced by cultural factors

The study found black infants were four times as likely as white babies to share an adult's bed, and Asian babies were almost three times as likely. Infants whose mothers were under 18 were more likely to bed-share; the practice was also more common in poor households.

"They may not have a crib or bassinet for the baby, so the only place the baby can sleep is in the bed," said Dr. Angelita Covington, an Atlanta pediatrician. Some parents, she said, may take their babies into their beds because it is a practice passed down.

Covington, who works in a community health center that sees mostly poor people, said she discourages bed sharing.

The study, which appears in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, warns that babies can fall out of bed and get hurt, or can suffocate when an adult rolls over or the child becomes trapped between the mattress and the bed frame. Other research suggests bed-sharing can raise the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

According to a 1999 study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an average of 64 young children die each year while sleeping in bed with their parents or other adults.

Some have suggested bed-sharing has benefits, such as promoting breast-feeding.

In this study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health concluded there needs to be more study on the benefits or hazards.

The study was based on a telephone survey of a nationally representative group of 8,453 people.

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