Infant deaths prompt Philadelphia campaign against bed-sharing

Wednesday, October 13th 2004, 8:31 pm
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Eight accidental infant smothering deaths in 18 months has led Philadelphia health officials to warn parents against bringing their babies to bed with them.

The city's effort will include television and newspaper advertisements, posters and instructional videos for new parents, all advising that the safest place for a baby to sleep is alone, on its back, in an uncluttered crib.

The medical community, however, is split over whether bed-sharing puts children at significant risk. Millions of babies sleep with their parents, and the practice has become more common in the United States over the past decade.

One large study, published in 2003 by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, estimated that nearly 13 percent of the nation's infants usually spend the night in their parents' bed, and nearly half spend at least some time sleeping with an adult.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission came out against the practice following a 1999 study in which it estimated that at least 64 children were dying nationally each year from sleeping in a bed with their parents or other adults.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents not make bed-sharing routine, saying children could be smothered under bedclothes or crushed by an adult.

A review of hundreds of infant deaths in England, published in the British Medical Journal in 1999, found an increased risk for infants who slept with adults on couches or with parents who had recently consumed drugs or alcohol.

But the study found little danger if the infants were older than 14 weeks, spent only part of the night with their parents, or slept in a full-size bed with parents who stayed sober and didn't smoke.

``People have some very strong feelings about this,'' said Dr. Joseph Hagan, a pediatrician in Vermont.

``What most pediatricians tell people is that if you're going to co-sleep with your infant, make sure no one is taking drugs and alcohol, make sure to put the baby to sleep on its back, don't smoke and don't use a feather mattress or a duvet. And if you do all those things, then it's probably safe.''

Even so, Philadelphia officials believe their educational efforts are warranted. City Health Commissioner John Domzalski said even a few deaths are enough to warn against bed-sharing.

``We think we should be telling mothers that there is a real danger associated with this practice,'' he said.