Co-Sleeping: The Leading Risk Factor for Sleep Related Infant Deaths

baby and mother co-sleeping
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It’s 3 a.m. and you’re exhausted. But your ravenous little one, whom you only just fed a few hours earlier, is once again screeching for immediate relief from this life-threatening hunger you've imposed upon him.

“81 percent of SIDS deaths in infants under the age of 3 months could have been prevented by not co-sleeping.”

So you inch out of bed, stagger toward your baby, and consider the nocturnal possibilities:

  1. Feed this child while in an upright position and then return him – in his full-bellied contentment – to his designated sleeping station; or,
  2. Take this child back into your warm, inviting, snuggly bed and feed him while you drift in and out of some much-needed slumber.

Before you decide to follow in my footsteps (I co-slept for several months), you need to know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just published an online study: “Bed Sharing Remains Greatest Risk Factor for Sleep Related Infant Deaths.”

{ MORE: Will Your Only Child Accept The New Baby? }

The study analyzed 8,207 deaths and divided the incidents by age (0-3 months of age and 4-12 months of age). Researchers found that 69 percent of the infants were bed-sharing at the time of death, and that “younger infants were more likely bed-sharing, sleeping on an adult bed or on/near a person, while older infants were more likely found prone with objects, such as blankets or stuffed animals in the sleep area.”

The risk factors are different for younger and older infants.

According to the AAP article, “The predominant risk factor for younger infants is bed-sharing, whereas rolling into objects in the sleep area is the predominant risk factor for older infants.”

In England, only parents who drink, smoke, or use drugs are advised to not co-sleep; however in the United States, “all parents are advised to not sleep with infants less than 3 months old,” no matter what.

If I had known that the risk for death majorly increased with co-sleeping while I was still in that stage of parenting, would I have continued sharing my bed? I don’t know. There are so many benefits gained from co-sleeping!

Co-sleeping babies are known to have better self-esteem, are independent earlier in life, and have more stable temperatures and fewer long pauses in breathing. Earlier research even flaunted that the risk of SIDS was lower in countries where co-sleeping is the norm.

{ MORE: Study Finds that Sleeping on Your Back During Pregnancy May Cause a Scary Complication }

But new statics are now confirming otherwise. Lead researcher Dr. Rachel Moon said, “This study is the first to show that the risks during sleep may be different for infants of different ages. Parents of infants under 4 months of age should be aware that bed-sharing is a huge risk factor.”

Do you feel that co-sleeping is good, or bad? Do you, or will you, co-sleep with your little one?

What do you think?

Co-Sleeping: The Leading Risk Factor for Sleep Related Infant Deaths

Kimberly Shannon is a wife, a mother, an editor, a writer ... She is always working to find the perfect balance¹! After Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she worked on two master’s degree programs (Creative Writing, and Marriage and Family Therapy). At various times in her life she has signed up to study Naturopathy, only to back out at the last minute, and humored the idea of returning full-time to the world of dance. Kimberly has also started 10 different children ... More

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37 comments

  1. Profile photo of Aleisha Aleisha says:

    We bought an expensive crib but haven’t even used it except letting him play and watch his whale mobile during the day. He sleeps in between my husband and I, and that just works for us. He’s almost
    three months old. I breastfeed him, so it’s nice to set him right next me in his little bed after he’s passed out in my lap. I’m ok with the bad comments from friends, family, even our pediatrician! I just can’t leave him in another room, where I can’t hear him move or breathe.

  2. Profile photo of Irene Irene says:

    Wow… I am really surprised how many Moms co-sleep with their LO! I have done it since day one and am always getting flack about it. Now I feel a lot more justified in my decision. It just works for our family. I would not have it any other way.

  3. Profile photo of Ashley Ashley says:

    We co-sleep, and have since my son was about 3-4 weeks old. He is 14 weeks now, and it is the only way he will sleep through the night. If he falls asleep with me, and I move him into his sleeping area, he wakes up. He has been sleeping through the night since about 5-6 weeks old (8-10 hours at a time!) and stays awake during the day, except an hour or two. I agree with other mothers, I may be achy and have a sore back/hips, but having him sleep next to me where I can monitor him and have him feel nurtured works for us!

  4. Profile photo of Elizabeth Elizabeth says:

    My daughter, Lyela, is 9 months old. With our house under construction it has been a complete mess.. It was HELL and really just utterly impossible to ‘settle in’ when we brought her home from the hospital! After COUNTLESS attempts at all sorts of sleeping situations… trying to keep her safe, co-sleeping became the only thing keeping all of us from checking ourselves into a mental hospital. My SO continues to give me ‘crap’ about co-sleeping, but from my experience it is the beset thing for my daughter and I. BUT IT NEEDS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY!

    Our queen sized mattress is firm and leaves plenty of room for everyone. The fitted sheet is taught and does not wrinkle. it is also a fabric that clings to the mattress, so that helps! We share one light comforter, yet I control it during the night. My SO turns into a burrito on some nights, so if it ever ends up ‘out of my control’, at least it isn’t going anywhere near Lyela. I use one medium sized pillow, with not too much ‘fluff’ and that has no loose fabric.
    She is always on top of my arm and/or nursing. Whenever I need to rotate, I lift her up to my chest and roll with her. We have come up with a very good system. I recently needed add a bed safety rail to my side of the bed because she is getting SO fast. It has helped keep her on the bed when she gets drowsy before bed and wants nothing to do with us lol and It is mesh so even if something happened and she wanted to fall asleep against it, she can breath.

    I wake whenever she makes the slightest noise or movement. Granted, I haven’t had the best sleep… but I know this is what’s best for my little darling. My shoulders and hips may ache, but baby comes first!! My advice is..
    DONT COSLEEP UNTIL YOUU CAN 150% TRUST YOURSELF (AND YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER IF APPLICABLE) AND FOLLOW SAFE COSLEEPING GUIDELINES.There were times where she fell off the bed, or was covered by my arm (this was all before cosleeping was a consideration and I had accidentally fallen asleep) IT IS SCARY. Do your research and be smart about it. It’s a wonderful thing but unfortunately has the potential to be deadly..

  5. Profile photo of Jessica Jessica says:

    My 2 month old baby boy shares my bed with me and it is a blessing. He has a terrible anxiety problem and has since birth And I seem to be the only thing that helps him when he is anxious and he absolutely will not sleep without being able to touch my skin. We tried his crib and even a bassinet that sits on my bed but no luck, I can not say the study’s are right or wrong but I know bed sharing is a blessing for my son and has even seemed to start helping with his anxiety and even his ability to sleep threw the night. I believe it is like anything else that people are scared of but it can be safe as long as you are responsible and prepare the bed appropriately.

  6. Profile photo of Zahra Zahra says:

    Wow, I took a look at the study and here’s what the methodology section says:

    “Adult bed” included adult bed (OK), waterbed (NOT safe), adult mattress (OK), bunk bed (OK as long as no one falls off), child’s bed (OK), sofa bed (NOT safe), and air mattress (NOT safe).

    Just by this bit, this study cannot conclusively debunk all the knowledge we have about SAFE bedsharing. Considering how many babies end their nights in their parent’s beds, I’d rather have clear studies that take a look at SIDS while following SAFE bedsharing practices. Then, we could tell parents what to do. Issuing a blanket statement of “Do not bedshare” is not all that useful when it leads to more unintentional bedsharing, which is usually done without following safe guidelines.

  7. Profile photo of Dede Dede says:

    One night, my baby was literally choking, red in the face, not making a sound choking! I felt him squirming in the bed with me trying to get air. That’s how I woke up. In a millisecond I scooped him up, draped him over my arms and patted his back until he started making sounds again. I layed him back to sleep next to me while I stayed awake shaking. Bed-sharing probably saved my kid’s life that night. Statistics are not black and white and every child and situation is different. Look, I have read that article and many others thoroughly and I get it. Reality is, the most dangerous thing that can happen to a baby is having a zombie for a mom who is so exhausted she can’t even carry her child. I put my child on his belly and check up him incessantly but fact of the matter he won’t sleep any other way. I felt like letting him fall asleep and then putting him on his back was like putting a bottle in his mouth and just as he tastes the milk, pulling it out of his mouth. We were both miserable. I can tell you a dozen more reasons as to why I bed share and why I put my baby on his belly to sleep but fact is I have made the decision that is best for my child and that is what you have to do.

  8. Profile photo of Bri Bri says:

    Well how about we start here. Other countries uphold the just recently deliver baby and their mother. The USA doesn’t care seeing as how the mother has to go back to work within 6wks to provide for her family, single parent or married. If American put more emphasis on the care of recently delivered mothers and their stress and well being….. Maybe the mother wouldn’t be so stressed and beyond exhausted. Maybe America /APPahpuld see how much more demanding breastfeeding is. All the “problems” that go wrong in the process of nurturing an infant they would see the benefits in co sleeping. I co-sleep…. I also let my daughter sleep on her stomach. Ohhh nooo I’m a bad mother now double negatives. Well
    A. I co-sleep bcuz it’s demanding when your newborn wants to feed ever hour… I’ve listened IN MY SLEEP to my daughters breathing and I’ve saved her many of times from prolonged pauses when breathing.
    B. I let her sleep on her stomach bcuz she’s more comfortable, she doesn’t get ANY NONE NADA amount of sleep in her back, she also just rolled over on her stomach one day and was out like a light. She’s also choked 3…. THREE times on saliva…SPIT each time and she was in her crib…figure that. Sooooooo ima be have a graceful sleep and she’s gonna be in her crib choking on saliva…. NO if rather hear her choking right beside me.

    I believe the reason why the younger babies died is because of work and stress and money that is higher then the health and well being of the mothers who carry the next golden child to America. The USA should treat their women who birth like the gold/money they fight in wars over and debate over.

    That is all 4:04am just got done with second night feeding….. Going back to bed.

  9. Profile photo of Liann Liann says:

    First of all bed-sharing and co-sleeping are two different things. Co sleeping CAN mean they are bed sharing but doesn’t necessarily mean that. I agree that this article gives bed-sharing such a bad rap. It definitely can be dangerous if you don’t educate yourself about safe bed sharing. It’s so much more dangerous to get up in the night stumble into the next room to sit, recline into a chair and feed your baby while you’re half asleep. Maybe these studies should show what the bed sharing situations were like. What was the baby wearing, blankets/pillows, did either parent have alcohol/drugs, where was the baby in the bed, etc? Bed sharing is not always BAD! The benefits are wonderful. Bed sharing is not for everyone but people who do bed-share should be educated and not looked down on. My 4 month old sleeps with us and it’s a very safe sleeping enviorment and I would not have it any other way!

  10. Profile photo of Lily Lily says:

    I agree with previous posters who argue that bed sharing deaths are more likely to come from unsafe cosleeping, not following the safe cosleeping guidelines.
    This may be a touchy subject, but I would definitely compare the no cosleeping campaign to abstinence only sex ed… Both lead to ignorance and unsafe practices. My heart aches for any family who lost their baby due to cosleeping, but I definitely think there is more to this story than just saying that cosleeping leads to a much increased risk of infant death.

  11. Profile photo of Mari Mari says:

    I co-slept with my first child and she is very independent, never had a problem with her sleeping in her own bed d she got older. I currently sleep with my newborn baby and we both love it.

  12. Profile photo of Janelle Janelle says:

    I think the beginning of this article states a couple of the major problems when it comes to increased risk with bed sharing. Being exhausted and bed sharing in a ‘snuggly’ bed. Following the safe co-sleeping rules have been found to lessen the risk of SIDS actually. It’s articles like this that give bed sharing a bad rap.

  13. Profile photo of slgill slgill says:

    I bed share with my 18 month old daughter. We started when she was around 7-8 weeks old. I honestly wish I would have started when she was a new born. I stopped breast feeding when my daughter was 3.5 months old.

  14. Profile photo of Danielle Danielle says:

    I’ve co-slept with both of my children beginning from the day they were born and currently still do with my seven month old. I have to agree with the English way of doing things. Doctors, scientist and the government are so quick to tell us what we should not be doing but what they fail to realize is that 9 times out of10 there mother did the exact same things with them and they are fine so why stop a good thing now lol

  15. Profile photo of Suzanne Suzanne says:

    I co slept but did not bed share. My daughter slept in a bassinet next to us until around 7 months then went into her own room. I breastfeed until she was one and had no problems. I dont think it is ever a good idea to bed share. My daughter goes to sleep so well now. Much better then her cousins, who are three times her age and bed share still. “Research” from mommy blogs and Doctors that get paid to tote their books dont count as credible. (I.e. Dr Sears) Find non-biased research and studies and I will listen. You don’t have to be an “attachment parent” bed sharing and baby wearing until they are 12 to raise healthy well adjusted kids with HEALTHY attachments.

    • Profile photo of Lily Lily says:

      Definitely check out
      http://cosleeping.nd.edu
      This is cosleeping habits studied in a lab at Notre Dame.
      Definitely changed my tune after freaking out when my ex-SIL started cosleeping with my nephew. I was and still am a happy, safe and confidant cosleeping mama.

  16. Profile photo of Lindsey Lindsey says:

    This article and the study it refers to is not a good guideline for parents. If you want to really inform yourself about the risks of SIDS and the pros and cons of co-sleeping, please don’t stop reading here. Instead check out the over 30 years of research by America’s co-sleeping and SIDS expert Dr. James McKenna. You can get the quick facts and answers to common questions by going to the following website:

    http://www.kidsinthehouse.com/baby/sleep/co-sleeping/essential-guide-safe-co-sleeping?qt-more_videos=1#qt-more_videos

    The summary of his research basically states that babies who are
    1. breastfed
    2. kept lying on their backs
    3. on an appropriate surface
    4. with mothers who are not taking drugs (prescription or otherwise) or alcohol

    have almost no risk of SIDS. The real risk factors for SIDS are those other 4 factors which each independently increase the risk of SIDS, but are hardly ever studied on their own. Dr. McKenna is also very pragmatic in bringing his research to the real world. He knows that every family must choose what is right for them and outlines several ways in which you can co-sleep or room share based on your personal circumstances.

    So, please don’t let the is article sway you away from doing something that is good for you, good for your baby, and practiced in 90% of the rest of the world. Find out the real risk factors, and make a more informed choice.

  17. Profile photo of Britney Britney says:

    Let me also add no one knows what causes SIDs half the time when those “studies” are done they are wrapping suffocation and SIDs in the same category. They are also two different things.

  18. Profile photo of Britney Britney says:

    So the fact you are linking co-sleeping and bed sharing as the same thing shows you ignorance. Co-sleeping is where the baby is in the room with you. Bed sharing is when the baby is sleeping in your bed. Bed sharing does have risks to it. However (info that came from my local wic office) co-sleeping while breastfeeding has actually shown to reduce the risk of SIDs. When co-sleeping is done correctly there is no danger. Do some research next time.

  19. Profile photo of Danielle Danielle says:

    The problem I have with studies like this how the results change based on what is popular, who does the research, and who is being studied. Take, for example, the studies about what position your baby should sleep in. When my first child was born, the pediatrician told me that studies showed that babies have less incidents of SIDS while sleeping on their backs and that I should never let my son sleep on his stomach. When I was born, my mother was told the exact opposite, that she should always put me to sleep on my stomach. When my dad was a baby, my grandmother was told that he should sleep on his back to prevent SIDS. She always adds on, “Of course they also told me that I should feed my babies formula instead of breastfeeding them, so I’m not sure they knew what they were talking about.”

    The conclusion I personally draw is that not enough is known about SIDS and it can’t truly be accurately understood or prevented. I am so sorry for anyone who has lost a child to SIDS and I don’t mean to be offensive in any way.

    But I believe that you have to make your own choices in parenting and while there are risks, there are also so many joys. And I think it is possible to do everything “right” and still be under risk for something like SIDS. You just have to do what feels right to you.

    I personally have successfully co-slept both my children. My son was in one of those little beds that go in the bed bed with the parents for about 4 months before he got too big for it. The co-sleeper was set on top of our covers and he slept in a pants suit with a sleep sack over it to keep him warm but keep him from smothering. We would both fall asleep on the couch after his 5am feeding (he did expressed breastmilk due to latch issues). I would always make sure I held him between me and the couch on top on my blanket. He also went through a phase when he was maybe 7-9 months old when he wouldn’t nap unless he was either in the car or snuggled with me. Since he still didn’t sleep through the night, I needed to be able to nap when he was napping…

    My daughter is 9 1/2 months old and we’ve co-slept from day one. We used the co-sleeper bed for a little while but she quickly out grew it (she was 10 lbs 2 oz and 22 inches long at birth…) After that I took her directly into bed with us. But both my husband and I are light sleepers, I keep her on top of the covers, and I keep her tucked up next to me as I curl around her so that I’ll feel her as soon as she moves…which sometimes means I get smacked…oh well.

    What works for us, might not work for others. Do your research, consider your options, and do what feels right to you. And good luck. I consider myself lucky that nothing has happened to my children and I pray nothing ever will. But, I’m not going to bubble-wrap my kids either.

    • Profile photo of Britney Britney says:

      The research is definitely swayed. My daughter is 5 months now and has been in my bed since day 1. We dont use a sheet on the mattress, no blanket, and i have the only pillow. It is completely ok to co-sleep or bed share when it is done properly. This article is written out of blind ignorance by some one who believes everything they read online. I guarantee someone told her not to breast feed to give cows milk from day 1 she would probably do it without conducting her own research.

  20. Profile photo of Sabrina Sabrina says:

    I think the benefits VASTLY outweigh the risk. in one study I read, a small group woman (800 to be exact) were neurologically screened while sleeping with their baby. The brain scans showed that even while sleeping, the mother was aware of her child next to he through the night. That’s why some say they don’t get the best of sleep while sleeping with their baby.. because your not in a real deep sleep. Now, this does go for those who are not smoking or drinking or doing other drugs. I tried putting my son is his beautiful (and basically unused) crib but it was so much harder for me and him to get up multiple time throughout the night while, like the author above said, stumbling over things and half asleep and then carry him to bed or sit on the chair. THAT didn’t seem safe to me. Co-sleeping with my son means we both get better sleep due to never having to really fully wake to feed and be fed. I feel a closeness and bond with my son while sleeping with him that I wouldn’t change..

  21. Profile photo of Ambur Ambur says:

    The studies I’ve read lump bed sharing mammas in with the women who accidently fall asleep on the couch with their babies. Also, the studies I’ve read show a difference between breastfeeding bed sharing mothers and mothers who have never breastfed.

    Frankly, I was more dangerous to my baby before I regularly started to bed share. My little one would not sleep at all apart from me. I was so sleep deprived that I was stumbling into things. One night I even bashed my baby’s head into the fridge on my way to try to put him down. I think my baby was at higher risk of being harmed seriously when I had no rest.

    There are safety guidelines one can follow when it comes to bed sharing. No fluffy pillows or blankets around baby. Sleep in a protective position. Don’t take any meds that might impare you. Don’t consume alcohol. Make sure that baby can’t fall and get trapped anywhere.

    My son shared the bed with us untill he was about 15 months. It was probably one of the biggest factors in sucessful breastfeeding. And it kept me rested enough to care for him.

  22. Profile photo of Jasmine Jasmine says:

    I have co-slept and still do with my baby girl virtually from the night she was born..lol. Or at least the first week when the bassinet was a hassle for us all..I breastfed and actually still am trying to get her off but just to get her to fall asleep at bedtime it still works as a charm. 🙂 she’s 15 months..actually almost 16 months. And she is doing fine!!! She is so smart, very independent. Which could be good or bad. Lol. But she loves sleeping with me, it gives her that comfort..I’m a very nurturing mother, fed on demand, just want her to feel the greatness of my love for her. N let her know Mommy’s ALWAYS Here..lol. She is becoming a bit spoiled or it could be early terrible 2’s but either way, I still love her n she gets her side of the bed next to the wall with a Blankey stuffed in the crease still..lol. Even when her dad n I were together and living together he almost fell off the bed cuz she was the queen of the mattress. Lol. Amazing how she’s so small n now takes over most of the bed..lol. But I was a very light sleeper and whenever she woke up, I did..I was very aware of her being there n would still check her temperature n breathing pattern occasionally n she was fine. Almost 1 1/2 years old n u think co-sleeping is bad?..lol well I’d do more research..of course other factors play a part..if u are more overweight u may not notice rolling over the baby, smoking, etc..I smoked but never even touch the bed until I’ve taken a very thorough shower. N like I said, she’s perfectly fine. 🙂 there is research talking about how you are more in sync with ur baby’s sleeping habits if u co-sleep n can see they are breathing and brush them if u need to if they stop to get them going again..again, I’ve never even had that problem but it’s much easier and better for my conscience knowing she was there and ok. 🙂

  23. Profile photo of Annie Annie says:

    Sooo, what you are saying is the risk of death is not enough to keep you from risking a (maybe, not proven) less intellectual baby? A dead baby is never “independent earlier” than a live baby! I’m sorry but your answer of you “don’t know” that you would have not co-slept with your baby had you known the risks of death are MAJORLY increased by doing so is just. Plain. Stupid. And I hope no one takes your advice or “maybe” advice seriously. Losing my baby to SIDS was the worst experience of my life and will be till the day I die. Please, read what you wrote and tell me that’s not just silly!
    Here’s your direct quote:
    If I had known that the risk for death majorly increased with co-sleeping while I was still in that stage of parenting, would I have continued sharing my bed? I don’t know. There are so many benefits gained from co-sleeping!

    • Profile photo of Frankie Frankie says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Did your baby co-sleep with you when he/she got SIDS? Perhaps you can offer some wisdom and advice to me? I’m expecting my first. And I totally agree with your comments on the author . This is the second article of hers I’ve read and its just as ignorant as the first.

      • Profile photo of Annie Annie says:

        Frankie, first of all, congratulations on your growing bundle of joy! I did co-sleep with my baby girl…I never smoked or drank, was strictly breast feeding, doing all the “right” things, and totally on board with “attachment” parenting. I wanted the best for her, I read every book, listened to my doctor and midwife friend, and decided that I would purchase one of those co-sleeper beds. Even though there was a barrier between us, a space just for her in our bed, she still passed away in her sleep. I will never forgive myself, and I will never ever let my children sleep in my bed. I wish you a happy, healthy pg! Hugs, Annie

        • Profile photo of Britney Britney says:

          Sorry for your loss i dont want to sound insensitive, but isn’t it likely your baby was lost to SIDs? Doctors have yet to find the reason behind SIDs. Any Doctor will tell you babies just forget to breathe. Even more so when they are sleeping. My daughter aspirates due to a medical condition and we bedshare have been since day1. Your little one didnt pass because of co-sleeping. She passed from SIDs. When each is done correctly people have actually seen less SIDs related deaths.

          • Profile photo of Frankie Frankie says:

            Britney, what do mean a “any doctor will tell you babies just forget to breathe”??? Breathing is a natural human function and unless a baby has a medical condition it’s not going to “forget” to breathe. I’ve asked my midwife and Dr and both say that’s nonsense. I think the whole point of this article IS the link between SIDS and contributing factors which COULD be sleeping in the same bed as your baby. The article is called – Co-Sleeping: The Leading Risk Factor for Sleep Related Infant Deaths. Thus the discussion here.
            Annie I can only imagine how unbelievably beyond words painful that experience was for you. Thank you for wishing me well and sharing your story which people can learn from. I will be keeping my baby in a basinet beside the bed for a few weeks or months and then moving him/her to his crib in his/her own room. All the best to you too!

  24. Profile photo of Lexi Lexi says:

    I co-slept with both of my kids for over a year. We all got more rest than when I tried to start off NOT co-sleeping with our first. We shoved the bed against the wall and put a rolled up receiving blanket in the crack so they could sleep between the wall and me, the light sleeper (as most new mothers are that aren’t on anything), versus between my husband, the heavy sleeper, and me. I always wonder who is actually being studied in these big studies they do because I never seem to qualify (not that I would want to with an infant death) for any of them….

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