Alcohol and Co-Sleeping Affect Risk for SIDS

Dave Taylor, a Boulder, Colo. father of three school-age kids, is one of the growing number of people who ignored pediatricians' warnings against bed-sharing as a way to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

"I have three kids and they have all survived their babyhood and we co-slept with all three of them," Taylor, author of the Attachment Parenting Blog, APParenting.com, said of his children who are now 12, 9 and 5. "It started out with baby cuddling with mamma and, as they got bigger, they took over the bed. The real issue is room in the bed."

Since the 1990s "Back to Sleep" campaign reduced SIDS deaths by 50 percent, a laundry list of new advisories for parents such as removing pillows or blankets has halved the rate of SIDS once again.

But new research out of England suggests that the risks for SIDS are more nuanced than once thought.

"The findings suggest that much of the risk associated with co-sleeping may be explained by the circumstances in which the SIDS infants were found," Peter S. Blair of the University of Bristol said in a study published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.

Blair and his colleagues followed all babies born in a southwest region of England from 2003 to 2006 to identify the common behaviors and circumstances surrounding a SIDS death.

Of the 184,800 infants tracked in the study, 90 of them died from SIDS and 80 families agreed to detailed interviews and investigation shortly after the children's deaths.

Researchers found that 54 percent of the infants who died of SIDS had been co-sleeping with parents at the time of death, while 21 percent of infants in the control groups had recently co-slept with parents.

Given the large number of children who were co-sleeping yet did not succumb to SIDS, the authors wondered whether co-sleeping alone had put children at risk for sudden death or a combination of behaviors.

When Sharing a Bed With Baby Is Most Dangerous

While children who died of SIDS also were more likely to be co-sleeping with a parent than a random selection of children, they were far more likely to be sleeping next to a parent who recently drank alcohol or did drugs (31 percent of children who had SIDS vs. 3 percent of children in the control groups), and were more likely to be sharing a sofa than a bed with an adult (17 percent of children who has SIDS vs. 1 percent of children in the control groups).

"What's really interesting to me about this study is how it shows we need to have a better idea about what infant-care practices are," said Dr. Eric Gibson, a neonatologist at the duPont Hospital for Children at Thomas Jefferson University in Wilmington, Del.

Gibson was also pleased to see more investigation because doctors still don't understand why factors such as sleep position, whether the mother smoked during pregnancy or whether the baby was born prematurely actually cause SIDS.

Bristol's Blair and his colleagues wrote, "The safest place for an infant to sleep is in a cot [crib] beside the parents' bed. Based on evidence from research into SIDS, it is questionable whether advice to avoid bed sharing is generalizable and whether such a simplistic approach would do no harm.

"Parents of young infants need to feed them during the night, sometimes several times, and if we demonize the parents' bed, we may be in danger of the sofa being chosen."

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