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Sharing a Bed Does Not Increase Mother-Baby Bonding, Study Finds

Mom and baby lying in bed together

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Key Takeaways

  • More than 60% of U.S. moms share a bed with their babies some of the time.
  • Many parents see bed-sharing as an opportunity to increase bonding.
  • However, a new study says there's no link between sharing a bed and infant/maternal bonding during the first six months.

Bed-sharing has always been a popular parenting choice in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 60% of U.S. moms share a bed with their infants at least some of the time. 

This may be for practical reasons (for instance, if the mother is breastfeeding on demand or the baby wakes frequently during the night) or to maximize bonding opportunities. But a recent study from University of Kent in the U.K. found no link between sharing a bed and infant/maternal bonding during the first six months. 

“There is conflicting advice for parents regarding whether they should share a bed with their baby or not,” says lead author Ayten Bilgin, PhD, from University Kent's School of Psychology. “One main reason for the support for bed-sharing is the idea that it might be beneficial for the development of secure attachment and maternal bonding. But there is not much empirical research looking into this link.”

The Study Findings 

The researchers analyzed data from 178 infants and their parents during the first 18 months. They found no associations between bed-sharing during the first six months and infant-mother attachment or infant behavioral outcomes, such as attention levels.

“Our findings do not support the idea that bed-sharing is beneficial for the baby’s attachment and mother’s bonding,” Dr. Bilgin says. “There is not enough evidence to support the idea that bed-sharing will improve the secure attachment of their baby and will improve the mother’s bond with the baby.”

Ayten Bilgin, PhD

There is not enough evidence to support the idea that bed sharing will improve the secure attachment of their baby and will improve the mother’s bond with the baby.

— Ayten Bilgin, PhD

However, Dr. Bilgin adds that the research evidence is limited in this area, and more research is required before any clear conclusions can be made.

“This study should provide confidence and decrease unnecessary guilt for parents who choose not to bed share so that they are not missing important bonding opportunities,” says Kelly Fradin, MD, pediatrician and author of “Parenting in a Pandemic: How to Help Your Family Through COVID-19.”

Early Childhood Attachment 

Understanding and promoting secure attachment in early childhood is key to positive social-emotional development, healthy expression of emotions as well learning to regulate emotions, and functional development of relational/interpersonal connections. 

“Secure attachment is promoted by multisensory messages between the baby and caregiver,” explains Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. “This includes touch, sound, nurturance, responsiveness to meeting basic needs, and reflecting positive affect and engagement.”

While co-sleeping or bed sharing may be a practice that is used by many families, Mendez agrees that it’s not necessary to the bonding/attachment process of early childhood. 

Official Bed Sharing Recommendations 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends not co-sleeping due to an increased risk of injury to the baby, such as suffocation or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Data reported by NPR suggests that a newborn has a 1 in 46,000 chance of death while sleeping in their own bed in the parent’s room (the practice recommended by the AAP for the first 12 months). However, the risk of dying from SIDS increases to 1 in 16,400 in a bed-sharing situation.

If you want to share a bed with your infant, it’s important to follow the safe sleep practices recommended by the AAP. “The optimal safety measure for co-sleeping is to consider alternatives to same-bed sleeping and opt for having the infant in their own cradle/bed next to your bed, rather than in the same bed,” Mendez says.

Kelly Fradin, MD

This study should provide confidence and decrease unnecessary guilt for parents who choose not to bed share so that they are not missing important bonding opportunities.

— Kelly Fradin, MD

If your infant sleeps in your bed, make sure you place them on their back and remove all soft objects, such as pillows or blankets, that can lead to strangulation and suffocation during the night. Be aware of other potential dangers, such as your baby falling off your bed. And never smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs before bed sharing with your infant. 

“As a pediatrician, I frequently emphasize the risks of both SIDS and falls from an adult height bed,” says Dr. Fradin. She advises decreasing fall risk by putting a mattress on the floor. “Avoid placing the baby in an area where they might get stuck [such as] between a mattress and a wall,” she adds. “And it’s essential to avoid sleeping with a baby in a recliner, sofa, or waterbed as these are particularly unsafe.” 

What This Means For You

If you're not sure whether bed sharing is right for you and your infant, have a discussion with your pediatrician. Remember, every situation is different and what's right for one family might not be right for you.

If you do decide to share a bed with your infant, make sure you follow the AAP's guidelines for safe sleeping.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 3,500 babies in the US are lost to sleep-related deaths each year. Published January 9, 2018.

  2. Bilgin A, Wolke D. Bed-sharing in the first 6 months: associations with infant-mother attachment, infant attention, maternal bonding, and sensitivity at 18 months. J Dev Behav Pediatr. Published online May 20, 2021. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000966

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Safe sleep: recommendations.