Cot Death Risk Rises when Baby Shares a Bed with Parents

It has been a matter of debate between parents and health professionals for decades – is it better for newborn babies to sleep with mum and dad or always to sleep in their cot? Now new research has sparked that debate back into life by concluding that babies who snuggle into their parents’ bed are five times more likely to be a victim of cot death than tots who sleep on their own.

The study was reported in the journal BMJ Open and brought an immediate response from the UK Government with ministers asking health officials to revisit official guidance on sleeping with babies and the risk of cot death.

Smoking has long been accepted as the main risk factor for babies who share a bed with their parents. But the latest research, carried out by a team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has indicated that there is a five-fold increase of cot death in babies who sleep in the same bed as their parents, irrespective of whether either parent is a smoker.

In the US and in the Netherlands, the advice from medical professionals is that parents should not take baby into bed until the child is at least three months old. Now UK health professionals have been asked to examine the official guidance to see if British parents should also be advised to do likewise.

However, UK health professionals are divided on that advice with some suggesting that telling parents not to take a baby into bed may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome if the mum or dad then falls asleep on the sofa with the baby alongside them.

The latest research focused on babies under three months old and involved parents who do not smoke, had not been drinking alcohol or taking illegal substances. All of those factors are known to increase the risk of cot death in ordinary circumstances.

Cot death causes the deaths of around 300 babies every year in the UK. Around half of deaths happen when the baby is sharing a bed with its parents. The London study concluded that parents should only bring a newborn into bed for a short time, to facilitate feeding for example, before returning the tot to its cot as soon as possible.

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