Mothers who sleep with their babies are more likely to breastfeed them and breastfeed them longer, a new study finds. Even so, the authors advise against co-sleeping.
The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or suffocation associated with co-sleeping is far greater than any benefit of promoting breastfeeding, the researchers say.
"What we found, which was kind of what we expected, was the longer the mother bed-shared the longer she was likely to breastfeed," said lead researcher Dr Fern Hauck, a distinguished professor of family medicine and director of the International Family Medicine Clinic at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.
"We definitely want mothers to breastfeed. It's the healthiest and most nutritious way for infants to get fed," she said. "But, the other side of the coin is, we know that bed-sharing has its hazards, specifically related to sudden infant death syndrome or suffocation."
Not in the same bed
The evidence of the risk is strong even among women who are breastfeeding, Hauck said. "Looking at the balance of things, we are still recommending that mothers do not bed-share even though it has an influence on breastfeeding," she said.
Hauck suggested that babies "should sleep close to mom, but not in the same bed."
The report was published on 23 September in the online edition of JAMA Pediatrics.
"Most paediatricians would agree with the conclusion of the study," said Dr Jose Rosa-Olivares, medical director of the paediatric care centre at Miami Children's Hospital.
Given the risk of SIDS and suffocation, it is difficult to support recommendations that mothers should bed-share with their infant, said Rosa-Olivares, who was not involved with the new study.
"The dangers of SIDS and suffocation are more important than the benefit of breastfeeding," he said. "Breastfeeding is extremely important, but to put the child at risk is not worth it."
Less than one-third
To see whether bed-sharing increased the odds of breastfeeding and feeding for a longer time, Hauck's team used data from the study on infant feeding practices that followed pregnant women through their infants' first year of life.
Of about 1 800 women in the study, those who bed-shared the most were more likely to breastfeed and breastfeed for the longest amount of time, compared to those who bed-shared for the least amount of time or didn't bed-share at all.
Moreover, women who had more education, were white, had breastfed before, had planned to breastfeed and hadn't returned to work in the first year after having a baby breastfed the longest.
While some groups like the La Leche League support bed-sharing to promote breastfeeding for some mothers, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against it and supports separate, but nearby, sleeping, Hauck said.
Although the benefits of breastfeeding are clear and while most women say they intend to breastfeed, less than one-third actually do, according to a study published last year in the July issue of Pediatrics.
The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives. Previous research has found that only 35% of American infants are breastfed exclusively for three months, and only 15% for the recommended six months, the authors of that study noted.
For more about breast-feeding, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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