Sleeping With Your Baby Encourages Breastfeeding: Is Bed-Sharing Safe?

Sleeping on her tummy, on a soft surface, increases baby's risk of SIDS - but breastfeeding actually reduces the risk. Image by kakisky

Sleeping on her tummy, on a soft surface, increases baby’s risk of SIDS – but breastfeeding actually reduces the risk. Image by kakisky

SIDS, Co-Sleeping, and Breastfeeding

Although research has conclusively shown that breastfeeding decreases your baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, and we know that bedsharing promotes breastfeeding, U.S. pediatricians do not tell parents to co-sleep. This is because previous research linked the practice to an even greater increased risk of SIDS. The research was not limited to exclusive breastfeeding of young babies however, and included SIDS cases in which the baby slept with an adult in a sofa or armchair – but the researchers did control the study results for parental smoking, alcohol and drug use.

You may be aware of other contributors to SIDS risk, such as prone infant sleeping position, overheating or overdressing, and covers or other soft items around the baby’s face that may trap exhaled air. Preterm birth, having twins, and bottle-feeding also increase an infant’s risk of SIDS.

The average rate of SIDS is .06 per 1000 live births. In a study of 1,472 SIDS cases and 4,679 healthy controls, researchers found that any parental alcohol or drug use, including cannabis, raised SIDS risk while co-sleeping five-fold. Were there any groups of co-sleepers in whom the average rate of SIDS was not increased? Yes! This group included bed-sharing parents of breastfed infants over 3 months old. The couples were non-smokers, mothers did not drink alcohol or use drugs, and they never practiced co-sleeping on a sofa.

Family Bed and Dad

Decoded Pregnancy asked lead researcher Fern Hauck, MD, of the University of Virgina, who acknowledged that the study did not collect information about co-sleeping fathers. If you are a bedsharing mom, however, you should consider the risks posed by your partner’s behavior, and by the type of bedding being used.

Dr. Hauck stated, “The studies that examined bedsharing in relation to SIDS rarely asked about position of fathers when there was bedsharing with both parents.

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When asked if co-sleeping, given the benefits, could be made safer, Dr. Hauck responded, “I am not recommending bedsharing, but if the parents choose to do so, babies should be sleeping on a firm mattress and never on couches or with fluffy, soft bedding. It is difficult to make a recommendation about where the baby should sleep in relation to two parents. In Japan, based on anecdotal discussions with colleagues, infants often sleep next to their mothers on the other side from fathers. They are usually sleeping on a firm futon on a mat on the ground, so the bedding situation is quite different from the average American home.

Infant Comfort and Feeding

It is important to note that Dr. Hauck and other experts are not suggesting that moms should not bring babies into the parent’s bed for comfort and feeding. Researchers have investigated this practice in previous studies, and found that it does not put infants at risk, provided Mom returns the baby to his own sleeping space.

Dr. Hauck would like to see further research to determine whether room-sharing without bed-sharing can promote breastfeeding as well as co-sleeping has been shown to do. If you are among the many mothers who prefer bedsharing and breastfeeding, making an informed choice that considers possible hazards and risk factors could be the key to safeguarding your infant’s health.


Huang, Y, Hauck, F, et. al. Influence of Bedsharing Activity on Breastfeeding Duration Among US Mothers. (2013). JAMA Pediatrics. Accessed September 27, 2013.

Carpenter, R., McGarvey, C, Bed Sharing When Parents Do Not Smoke: Is There a Risk of SIDS? (2013). BMJ. Accessed September 27, 2013.

Hauck, F., Tanabe, K., International Trends in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Stabilization of Rates Requires Further Action. (2008). Pediatrics. Accessed September 27, 2013.

Hauck, F., Thompson, J., Tanabe, K., Moon, R., Vennemann, M. Breastfeeding and Reduced Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta-analysis. (2011). Pediatrics. Accessed September 27, 2013.

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