Goodnight moon, hello Mom

If the nighttime is the right time to be with the one you love, then a surprisingly large proportion of mothers and their babies have taken that advice to heart.

Nearly half the infants in the United States spend at least some time during the night sleeping in the same bed as their mother or other adults, according to a report in the January Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Moreover, from 1993 to 2000, the proportion of infants regularly sharing an adult’s bed throughout the night–a common practice in many parts of the world–rose from 5.5 percent to almost 13 percent, say Marian Willinger of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in Bethesda, Md., and her colleagues.

In each year of the study, researchers conducted telephone interviews with the nighttime caregivers–mainly mothers–of approximately 1,000 babies. Participants were chosen at random from public records of births in the 48 contiguous states.

Black and Asian mothers reported the highest rates of bed sharing with their babies, followed by mothers age 18 and younger and mothers with annual household incomes of $20,000 or less.

A related study, directed by NICHD’s Ruth A. Brenner and published in the same journal, finds that nearly half the babies of 369 low-income mothers living in Washington, D.C., routinely slept in a bed with a parent or other adult throughout the first year of life. Most of the mothers were black and unmarried.

Both Willinger and Brenner say that these trends underscore the need to revisit controversial claims about the health benefits and risks of bed sharing for babies.


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Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.