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Sharing a bed with an infant carries a five-fold increase in the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a University of Auckland study reveals.

Published in the British Medical Journal, the new study is the largest ever analysis of its kind with researchers examining individual records of 1472 SIDS cases and 4679 control cases across five major studies.

They found the risk of SIDS among breastfed babies under three months increased with bed sharing, even when the parents did not smoke and the mother had not consumed alcohol or drugs.

This five-fold increase was in comparison to room sharing, where a baby slept in a cot in the parents’ room.

The risk from bed sharing decreases as a baby gets older.

“SIDS remains a major cause of death among babies under one year of age in New Zealand and other high income countries,” said one of the study’s authors, Professor Ed Mitchell, a University of Auckland paediatrician.

There was already a general consensus that sleeping with a baby increases the risk of SIDS if the parents smoke or if the mother has been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, he said.

There were conflicting opinions as to whether bed sharing in general represented a risk when these factors were not present.

The Ministry of Health advised that “the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot besides the parental bed for the first six months of the infant’s life”, said Mitchell, who initiated the study.

He said that in New Zealand more than 50 per cent of deaths occured while parents slept in the same bed as the baby.

“If parents were made aware of the risks of sleeping with their baby, and room sharing was instead promoted in the same way that the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign was promoted 20 years ago to advise parents to place their newborn infants to sleep on their backs, we could achieve a substantial reduction in SIDS rates.”

The study authors stated that babies could still be brought into the parents’ bed for comfort and feeding during the night, but that they should be placed in a cot next to the parents’ bed to sleep.

The risk of SIDS was very low for babies whose mothers followed the current New Zealand advice: “No smoking in pregnancy and around baby, sleep baby on the back, have baby in a cot in the parental bedroom and breastfeed if possible.”

Fairfax NZ

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