Doctors' Group: Infants Should Not Share Parents' Bed

The nation's largest group of pediatricians suggests measures to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Babies should be offered pacifiers at bedtime and not sleep in the same bed as their parents. Madeleine Brand speaks with Dr. Fern Hauck about the recommendations.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

News for new moms and dads. The American Academy of Pediatrics formally says parents should not share a bed with their infants. In new guidelines issued today, the academy warns the so-called family bed contributes to sudden infant death syndrome. DAY TO DAY's Madeleine Brand has more.

MADELEINE BRAND reporting:

It is one of the most intimate and pressing issues for new parents: how their baby should sleep. And like almost everything else regarding child care, there are distinct camps, the crib camp and the family bed camp. Both say their way is the healthiest for babies. Today the American Academy of Pediatrics sided firmly with the crib camp. Dr. Fern Hauck is on the group's sudden infant death syndrome task force.

Dr. FERN HAUCK (American Academy of Pediatrics): We don't know still what causes SIDS. There are many theories. The general feeling now is that SIDS does occur during sleep. It's a disorder related to a sleep period, and something happens to challenge the infant during sleep, such as putting the face down into bedding and occluding the airway or blocking the nose or the airway, and the normal baby should turn its head and take a deep breath and do fine. These children--perhaps something's wrong with them where they don't do the normal recovery mechanisms and therefore get into trouble.

BRAND: And the risk is what? That the mother will accidentally roll over on the infant, that the infant will suffocate?

Dr. HAUCK: Well, we don't again know the reason for the hazard with bed-sharing. Some people argue that there might be a suffocation element, and others believe that it may in fact not be suffocation, but whatever the mechanism is that's causing SIDS, and we do know that in some circumstances SIDS babies have overheated and might then send their physiological regulatory system out of whack, and it's possible that in the bed-sharing situation babies are overheating or they're getting into a situation where they're not able to clear their airways. But interestingly, most babies who sleep in bed with their parents are on their backs, so we don't think that it's simply the face-down mechanism; we think there's something more complicated than that.

BRAND: Well, that part of your recommendation has caused some controversy amongst people who recommend the family bed or who advocate a family bed, and who think that infants fare better when they are in the family bed with the mother because the mother can awaken more easily when she senses that something's wrong, she can breast-feed more easily, things like that.

Dr. HAUCK: Well, right. The breast-feeding advocates have been advocating for the family bed, and in fact recent data show that Americans are tending to bed-share more frequently with their babies for a combination of reasons. As you said, for breast-feeding ease, for keeping an eye on the baby, and also because so many women work--it's a way of bonding and becoming closer to the infant. And there is research that shows that bed-sharing does help breast-feeding. We don't know which comes first. Do people who bed-share breast-feed more easily, or do people who breast-feed just tend to bed-share more because they find they're tired and it just eases the process? So we're making a second recommendation which is that the baby should be in the room with the parents, preferably near the mother's bed in a separate crib or bassinet. The data, the research show that for those situations babies do better than babies that are sleeping alone in another room in a crib.

BRAND: Dr. Fern Hauck is on the task force on sudden infant death syndrome for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And, Dr. Hauck, thank you very much.

Dr. HAUCK: My pleasure.

CHADWICK: And that interview by DAY TO DAY's Madeleine Brand.

DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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