The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recommends against bedsharing during infancy because of its association with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, little is known about the consequences of bedsharing after infancy, and research results on the topic have been limited.
“While the AAP has advised against bedsharing in infancy, it is unknown if there are developmental consequences of mother-child bedsharing during ages 1 to 3,” says Dr. Hale.
“Our study finds that bedsharing is several times more common among black and Hispanic mothers than among non-Hispanic white mothers. The study also indicates that after adjusting for these and other sociodemographic differences in who bedshares, there are no statistically significant differences in cognitive and behavioral outcomes at age 5 between children who bedshared in toddlerhood and those who did not.”
In “Mother-Child Bed-sharing in Toddlerhood and Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes,” Dr. Hale and fellow investigators analyzed data on mothers and from 944 low-income families. Status of bed sharing was assessed at 1, 2, and 3 years of age. The results show that mothers who were Hispanic and African American were more likely to bedshare at ages 1, 2, and 3 than white non-Hispanic mothers.
Additionally, at age 5, children who regularly shared a bed with their parent for nighttime sleep during toddlerhood had poorer social skills and cognition than those who never shared a bed. But Dr. Hale points out that this finding is likely a misleading correlation because after statistical adjustment for child and mother characteristics, these associations are no longer observed.
“A dearth of longitudinal research limits our understanding of cognitive and behavioral consequences of bedsharing,” continues Dr. Hale. “Any negative associations between bedsharing in toddlerhood and later behavioral and cognitive outcomes are probably not due to bedsharing itself, but rather to the sociodemographic characteristics of American families who bedshare.”
The findings of the Stony Brook-led study are based on data used from the Early Head Start (EHS) Research and Evaluation Study, which began in 1996 as an evaluation of the EHS program. The study was conducted at 17 EHS programs across the country selected for their geographic and programmatic diversity. Families with incomes at or below the poverty level, with at least one child younger than age 12 months, were recruited for the study. Of the 3,001 families who participated in the evaluation, half were randomly assigned to the program group, which received EHS services, and half were assigned to the control group, in which families were free to obtain services elsewhere.
Research for the study was supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Data were drawn from the EHS Research and Evaluation Project, funded by the Administration for Children and Families, U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Hale’s study co-authors are R. Gabriela Barajas, M.A.; Ann Martin, Dr.PH; and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ph.D., of Teachers College, Columbia University.
Material adapted from Stony Brook University Medical Center.