David Tappin, MD, MPH and colleagues from University of Glasgow and Ecob Consulting evaluated 123 cases of SIDS in Scotland between 1996 and 2000. The parents of these infants provided information about the baby's exposure to smoking, the parents' routine infant-care practices, and the day or night of their infant's death. The researchers found that 90% of the babies died while sleeping at night. Only 11% of the infants were reported to routinely sleep in their parents' bed. 52% of the babies, however, had shared a bed/cot/couch or other surface at some point during the day or night that they died; of these, 87% were found in their parents' beds.
A relationship exists between SIDS, bedsharing, couchsharing, and the location of the infants when they died; this association is magnified when the babies are less than 11 weeks old, regardless of how long they shared a sleep surface, their proximity to parents, their location in the bed, or their exposure to smoke. 72% of the infants found in their parents' bed and 57% of the infants who shared a couch when they died were less than 11 weeks old. In this study, sleeping in a separate room did not increase the risk of SIDS, unless the parents were smokers.
Although SIDS cannot be prevented, parents can take precautions to reduce their infant's risk by stopping smoking during and after pregnancy and placing their infant on his/her back to sleep. Sharing a couch to sleep, sleeping in a room alone, and sleeping in bed with parents are also associated with increased risk. Sleeping between parents may put extra stress on the infant and could position the baby too close to or underneath pillows or blankets. Dr. Tappin reminds caregivers of the advice given by the U.K. Department of Health: "The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot [crib] in your room for the first six months."
The study is reported in "Bedsharing, roomsharing, and sudden infant death syndrome in Scotland: A case-control study" by David Tappin, MD, MPH, Russell Ecob, SCRT STAT, MSc, and Hazel Brooke, MA. The article appears in The Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 147, Number 1 (July 2005), published by Elsevier.