How dangerous is bed-sharing?

Let me start by saying that I’m not going to discuss the shutdown. It’s my birthday, and I’m choosing not to focus on things that make me want to scream. I’m trying to keep my blood pressure under control.

Instead, I’d like to bring this manuscript by Dr. Abraham Bergman to your attention. “Bed Sharing per se Is Not Dangerous“:

The campaign against bed sharing stems from a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). When condemning a widespread cultural practice, the supporting data should be clear. The studies cited to support the AAP’s position share a common flaw: nonuniform and unverifiable information on the causes of death.

I’ve been guilty of participating in this campaign. People I work with have convinced me that bed-sharing can be dangerous. Is it?

The National Center for Health Statistics receives its information about causes of death from a potpourri of US coroners and medical examiners in 2185 different death investigation jurisdictions. This lack of uniformity means that the personal beliefs of coroners and medical examiners determine the diagnoses written on death certificates.

Shapiro-Mendoza and colleagues reported that from 1996 through 2004, although the overall rate of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) remained the same, deaths attributed to accidental suffocation and strangulation in that period increased annually by 14%. At the same time, the proportion of deaths attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) declined. Did the members of the AAP Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome really take these shocking figures at face value?

I’ve known Abe for a long time. I don’t think he’d bristle at my calling him an iconoclast. He’s built a career out of questioning conventional wisdom. But he makes a compelling case that we’ve been fighting for all the wrong reasons, and taking comfort in something that may be a coding artifact. Especially since another study in the same issue of JAMA Pediatrics finds that more than 9% of mothers whose education included “college or more” usually bed-share. My wife and I did sometimes with our kids. I know other physicians who did the same. Maybe we’re preaching, but not practicing.

Read his piece and make your own decision.


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