Objective. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) remains the number 1 cause of postneonatal infant death. Prone infant sleep position and maternal smoking have been established as risk factors for SIDS mortality. Some studies have found that bedsharing is associated with SIDS, but, to date, there is only strong evidence for a risk among infants of smoking mothers and some evidence of a risk among young infants of nonsmoking mothers. Despite the lack of convincing scientific evidence, bedsharing with nonsmoking mothers remains controversial. In some states, nonsmoking mothers are currently being told that they should not bedshare with their infants, and mothers of infants who died of SIDS are told that they caused the death of their infant because they bedshared. The objective of this study was to explore the relationship between maternal smoking and bedsharing among Oregon mothers to explore whether smoking mothers, in contrast to nonsmoking mothers, are getting the message that they should not bedshare.

Methods. Oregon Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System surveys a stratified random sample, drawn from birth certificates, of women after a live birth. Hispanic and non-Hispanic black, non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaskan Native women, and non-Hispanic white women with low birth weight infants are oversampled to ensure sufficient numbers for stratified analysis. The sample then was weighted to reflect Oregon’s population. In 1998–1999, 1867 women completed the survey (73.5% weighted response). The median time from birth to completion of the survey was 4 months. Women were asked whether they shared a bed with their infant “always,” “almost always,” “sometimes,” or “never.” Frequent bedsharing was defined as “always” or “almost always”; infrequent was defined as “sometimes” or “never.”

Results. Of all new mothers, 35.2% reported bedsharing frequently (always: 20.5%; almost always: 14.7%) and 64.8% infrequently (sometimes: 41.4%; never: 23.4%). Bedsharing among postpartum smoking mothers was 18.8% always, 12.6% almost always, 45.1% sometimes, and 23.6% never; this was not statistically different from among nonsmoking mothers. Results for prenatal smokers were similar. When stratified by race/ethnicity, there was no association between smoking and bedsharing in any racial or ethnic group. In univariable and multivariable logistic regression, there were no statistical differences in frequent or any bedsharing among either prenatal or postpartum smoking mothers compared with nonsmokers; the adjusted odds ratio for postpartum smokers who frequently bedshared was 0.73 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.42–1.25) and for any bedsharing was 1.05 (95% CI: 0.57–1.94). Results for prenatal smoking were similar. This is the first US population-based study to look at the prevalence of bedsharing among smoking and nonsmoking mothers. Bedsharing is common in Oregon, with 35.2% of mothers in Oregon reporting frequently bedsharing and an additional 41.4% sometimes bedsharing. There was no significant association between smoking and bedsharing for either prenatal or postpartum smokers among any racial or ethnic group. Smoking mothers were as likely to bedshare as nonsmoking mothers. The frequency of bedsharing in Oregon was similar to estimates from other sources. Our study has the advantage of being a population-based sample drawn from birth certificates, weighted for nonresponse.

Conclusions. Although a number of case series have raised concerns about the safety of mother–infant bedsharing, even among nonsmoking mothers, this has not yet been confirmed by careful, controlled studies. There have been 9 large-scale case-control studies of the relationship between bedsharing and SIDS. Three case-control studies did not stratify by maternal smoking status, but found no increased risk for SIDS. Six case control studies reported results stratified by maternal smoking status: 1 study, while asserting an association, provided an unexplained range of univariable odds ratios without CIs; 3 found no increased risk for older infants of nonsmoking mothers; and 2 found a risk only for infants <8–11 weeks of age. Despite the preponderance of evidence that bedsharing by nonsmoking mothers does not increase the risk for SIDS among older infants, the recent specter of bedsharing as a cause of SIDS, based on uncontrolled case series and medical examiners’ anecdotal experience, has led some medical examiners to label a death “suffocation” or “overlay asphyxiation” simply because the infant was bedsharing at the time of death. This “diagnostic drift” may greatly complicate future studies of the relationship between bedsharing and SIDS. Epidemiologic evidence shows that there is little or no increased risk for SIDS among infants of nonsmoking mothers but increased risk among infants of smoking mothers and younger infants of nonsmoking mothers. It seems prudent to discourage bedsharing among all infants <3 months old. Young infants brought to bed to be breastfed should be returned to a crib when finished. It would be worthwhile for other researchers to reanalyze their previous data to evaluate the consistency of the interaction of young infant age and bedsharing. Large controlled studies that include infants who are identified as dying from SIDS, asphyxia, suffocation, and sudden unexplained infant death, analyzed separately and in combination, are needed to resolve this and other issues involving bedsharing, including the problem of diagnostic drift. Recommendations must be based on solid scientific evidence, which, to date, does not support the rejection of all bedsharing between nonsmoking mothers and their infants. Cribs should be available for those who want to use them. Nonsmoking mothers should not be pressured to abstain from bedsharing with their older infants; they should be provided with accurate, up-to-date scientific information. Infants also should not co-sleep with nonparents. In Oregon, if not elsewhere, the message that smoking mothers should not bedshare is not being disseminated effectively. Because it is not known whether the risk caused by smoking is associated with prenatal smoking, postpartum smoking, or both, bedsharing among either prenatal or postpartum smokers should be strongly discouraged. Much more public and private effort must be made to inform smoking mothers, in culturally competent ways, of the very significant risks of mixing bedsharing and smoking. Public health practitioners need to find new ways to inform mothers and providers that smoking mothers should not bedshare and that putting an infant of a nonsmoking mother to sleep in an adult bed should be delayed until 3 months of age.

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