Should parents share a bed with their infant? The American Academy of Pediatrics clearly says "no" (.pdf), citing instances of infants being accidentally smothered to death in adults' beds.
But new research showing links between bed-sharing and breastfeeding might one day alter the contours of that guidance. The latest study, in which scientists from the UK collected longitudinal data on bed-sharing and breastfeeding practices from almost 14,000 families at five time points during their child's first four years of life, has just been published in the journal Pediatrics. The team wanted to find out how the relationship works: Does bed-sharing lead to more breastfeeding, or is it the other way around?
About a third of parents shared a bed with their child at some point, the researchers found, with some bed-sharing only in early infancy, some only later in infancy, and about six percent bed-sharing continuously from birth to preschool age. They couldn't untangle which comes first: more breastfeeding or more bed-sharing, but they showed that mothers who were bed-sharing at any time point after their baby reached 6 months of age were more likely to keep breastfeeding for the year recommended by doctors. The scientists conclude:
Given the likely beneficial effects of bed sharing on breastfeeding rates and duration, risk reduction messages to prevent sudden infant deaths would be targeted more appropriately to unsafe infant care practices such as sleeping on sofas, bed sharing after the use of alcohol or drugs, or bed sharing by parents who smoke.