Bed sharing, a practice where mother and infant sleep on the same surface, remains popular all over the world despite potential health risks for the infant. According to a new University of Georgia study, bed sharing can likely be decreased if public health officials tailor messaging to their unique population.
[Photo: Dr. Trina Salm Ward]
Dr. Trina Salm Ward, assistant professor in the UGA School of Social Work and assistant professor of health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health, reviewed literature on bed sharing in “Reasons for Mother-Infant Bed-Sharing: A Systematic Narrative” in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, published online ahead of the January/February print issue.
The biggest risk of bed sharing is sudden infant death syndrome, the third leading cause of infant mortality in the U.S.
In her research, Dr. Salm Ward discovered the main reasons mothers chose to bed share included breastfeeding, emotional comfort and reassurance, monitoring, better sleep for infant, family traditions, and bonding. Since mothers elect to bed-share for a variety of reasons, Dr. Salm Ward suggests that the issue is more complex than it was originally thought.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers simply not bed-share with their infant,” Dr. Salm Ward said. “However we’ve found that the ‘just don’t do it’ messaging isn’t helpful and that scare tactics don’t necessarily work. Instead we need to look into harm-reduction techniques.”
For Dr. Salm Ward, this means not stigmatizing and alienating mothers who continue to bed-share. Instead she suggests a variety of options to mothers who may not be able to give the practice up. This could be because of socio-economic reasons, like not being able to afford a crib or to protect the infant from other family members. Although bed sharing isn’t recommended, Salm Ward says that mothers should know about infant sleeping suggestions.