‘Sharing a bed could kill your baby’ – cot death report sparks debate

Professor Helen Ball

Professor Helen Ball

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A CHILD sleep expert says parents should be given more information to minimise the risks of infant bed-sharing.

Professor Helen Ball, director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at Durham University, spoke after researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said bed-sharing could lead to a fivefold increase in the risk of cot death among young babies.

The research stated that bed sharing should be avoided to reduce the number of babies who die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids).

However, Professor Ball, who has researched infant sleep issues for 15 years, said that simply telling parents to avoid bed-sharing with babies would not stop them from doing so.

She said such a recommendation showed a “worrying lack of cultural awareness or sensitivity to child-rearing beliefs of different groups of parents.”

Professor Ball said the recommendation, based on a very small increase in the estimated Sids rate of approximately one in 10,000, does not allow parents, especially those whose infants are at low risk for Sids – healthy term births, breastfed, not exposed to parental smoking or alcohol consumption – to make an informed choice to bed-share or not.

She added: “Sids is not the only issue that must be taken into consideration when considering parent-infant bed-sharing.

“Risk minimisation, involving parent education and facilitating informed choice, is a more logical and ethical approach to the bed-sharing issue than one focusing on risk elimination.”

It comes after the sad story of two-and-a-half-month-old Harley Jack, from Sunderland, who died after sharing a bed with his father Liam Wootton.

The Echo reported in February how Sunderland’s assistant deputy coroner Clare Davies recorded a verdict of natural causes, contributed to by co-sleeping.

The research by the London group claimed sharing a bed with a newborn increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome fivefold, even if parents avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs – other factors firmly linked to cot deaths.

It compared nearly 1,500 cot deaths with a control group of more than 4,500 parents.

Current guidance in the UK is that parents should decide where their baby sleeps, but says the safest option is in a crib or cot in the same room.

Some other countries, such as the US and the Netherlands, go further and say parents should not share a bed with their baby for the first three months of his or her life.

The Government said it had asked the public health watchdog Nice to urgently examine its guidance on co-sleeping in light of this new study.