Sleeping with baby: the dangers quantified

According to Victorian coroner John Olle there are an “alarming” number of infant co-sleeping deaths in Victoria. Figures reveal that 33 of the 72 unexplained child deaths in the past three years occurred in circumstances where a child shared a bed with an adult.

Alarming new data shows that co-sleeping, where a baby shares a bed with an adult, is linked to nearly one in two sudden infant death syndrome cases in Victoria. A landmark investigation found there had been seven co-sleeping infant deaths in 2008, rising to 15 in 2010.

The figures formed part of a Corners Prevention Unit investigation, believed to be first of its kind in Australia. The coroner will examine five case studies as part on a day-long inquest on November 28. During the inquest, which opens with a directions hearing today, experts will debate whether suffocation and even excessive body heat contributes to infant co-sleeping deaths.

Guidelines do not specifically tell parents not to share a bed with their babies, though they do acknowledge a risk. SIDS and Kids formal guidance says, “Sharing a sleep surface with a baby is a complex issue that encompasses many factors, and there is currently insufficient evidence to issue a blanket statement either for or against this practice.”

Data from the Victorian Coroner's Prevention Unit, extracted for the coronial inquiry, shows 72 children aged between seven days and one year died mysteriously as they slept over the three years to December 2010. Of those, 33 had been sharing a bed, or other sleep surface, with an adult.

Murdoch Children's Research Institute associate professor Harriet Hitchcock warned there was always a risk in sharing a bed with a baby, but conceded parents received mixed messages. “Some studies show increased risk and others show none, so there is conflicting evidence,” she said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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