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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More parents are putting their babies to sleep next to them in bed, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that over the past 20 years, bed-sharing has become more common, especially among black and Hispanic families.
The practice is controversial. Some evidence suggests mothers who share a bed with their babies also tend to keep breastfeeding for longer (see Reuters Health story of September 23, 2013 here: reut.rs/1bBVlvX).
But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against bed-sharing because it has been linked to a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. About 2,500 babies die from SIDS each year in the United States.
"We definitely saw an increase (in bed-sharing), and we also see an increase in the racial disparity," Dr. Eve Colson, who led the study at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, told Reuters Health.
"We need to go to the next step to figure out why that is."
Colson and her colleagues used data from national telephone surveys of about 19,000 people with an infant at home, conducted between 1993 and 2010.
During that time, the proportion of participants - typically mothers - reporting that their baby often shared a bed with another person rose from almost 7 percent to close to 14 percent.
Although those rates leveled off for white babies in 2001, they continued to increase for black and Hispanic babies throughout the study period.
By 2010, mothers reported that about 39 percent of black infants were bed-sharing, compared to close to 21 percent of Hispanic infants and 9 percent of white infants. Most of those babies were sharing a bed with their parents, the researchers wrote Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
Previous studies suggested women of different races and ethnicities may have different motivations for sleeping with their babies, Dr. Fern Hauck from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, said.
Some women bed-share because their parents bed-shared or because they believe it's the safest thing for their baby, she said. Others believe it will help them breastfeed.
The researchers note that their study group was not nationally-representative and almost half of participants were 30 years old and above, had a college education and made at least $50,000 a year.
Pediatrician Dr. Abraham Bergman from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle wrote in an editorial published with the new study that he found it "disquieting" that the authors assume bed-sharing is bad.
"To me the data just aren't there to support" the recommendation against bed sharing, Bergman told Reuters Health.
He said obesity and alcohol and drug use by parents do put a baby more at risk during bed-sharing. "One has to be prudent about it," he said.
Hauck, who is also a member of the AAP Task Force on SIDS, challenged that idea.
"The recommendation to not bed-share was made very, very carefully, because we know how big it is. It's an emotional thing for people," Hauck, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.
She added, there's "evidence that even among women who were breastfeeding, even among women who would otherwise be considered low-risk, who were not smoking, bed-sharing does increase the risk of SIDS."
Colson said the new study presents "an opportunity" for doctors to speak with families about bed-sharing, given how infrequently those discussions seem to be happening now.
SOURCE: bit.ly/KEGTVv JAMA Pediatrics, online September 30, 2013.