CANTERBURY, United Kingdom — Is it a good idea for new mothers to share the bed with their babies? That question has proven hard to definitively answer in recent years. Some believe bed sharing can be beneficial in terms of bonding mother and infant, but studies have linked it to otherwise easily avoidable health risks. Now, new research finds those complex benefits of bed sharing may be nothing but hype.
Researchers from the University of Kent say their work indicates there is no link at all between bed sharing, stronger infant-mother attachment, and infant behavioral outcomes. In other words, this study suggests bed sharing has no ties to either good or bad qualities when it comes to forming a closer bond between mother and child or encouraging certain behaviors.
Doctors and researchers currently recommend against bed sharing, especially when the baby is younger than four months-old. Part of the reason is due to the increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, that directly contradicts what many people believe, which is that bed sharing is near essential for the baby to develop a secure attachment style and for mothers to develop a strong bond to their infants.
“A lot of people think that bed sharing is necessary to promote secure attachment with infants. However, there is little research in this area and quite mixed evidence. More insight into the outcomes of bed sharing is required to better inform parents, guardians and practitioners,” says study leader Dr. Ayten Bilgin from Kent’s School of Psychology in a university release.
Bed sharing can make parenting easier, but likely won’t improve bonding
Study authors analyzed data pertaining to 178 infants and their parents during this project. Each family submitted information for the study right after birth, and three, six, and 18 months later. The analysis identified no associations whatsoever between bed sharing during the first six months and either infant-mother attachment or infant behavioral patterns (such as attention levels and hyperactivity) at 18 months. At the same time, the team did not find any connection between bed sharing during the first six months of a child’s life and maternal bonding or sensitivity in interacting with an infant at later follow-up points.
In conclusion, study authors say they need to conduct larger research projects before they can understand the full effect of bed sharing on infant development. For what it’s worth, some parents interviewed for this study say that bed sharing has been somewhat helpful from a purely practical standpoint.
“Around a third of all parents share their bed with their infant during the first 18 months of life occasionally to most nights in this UK study. We found the practice was associated with ease of breastfeeding and dealing with night waking of the baby,” explains Dieter Wolke, Professor of Developmental Psychology and Individual Differences at the University of Warwick.
The team published their study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.