Objective: The Alaska Division of Public Health has stated that infants may safely share a bed for sleeping if this occurs with a nonsmoking, unimpaired caregiver on a standard, adult, non-water mattress. Because this policy is contrary to recent national recommendations that discourage any bed sharing, we examined 13 years of Alaskan infant deaths that occurred while bed sharing to assess the contribution of known risk factors.
Methods: We examined vital records, medical records, autopsy reports, and first responder reports for 93% of Alaskan infant deaths that occurred between 1992 and 2004. We examined deaths while bed sharing for risk factors including sleeping with a non-caregiver, prone position, maternal tobacco use, impairment of a bed-sharing partner, and an unsafe sleep surface. We used Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System data to describe bed-sharing practices among all live births in Alaska during 1996-2003.
Results: Thirteen percent (n=126) of deaths occurred while bed sharing; 99% of these had at least one associated risk factor, including maternal tobacco use (75%) and sleeping with an impaired person (43%). Frequent bed sharing was reported for 38% of Alaskan infants. Among these, 60% of mothers reported no risk factors; the remaining 40% reported substance use, smoking, high levels of alcohol use, or most often placing their infant prone for sleeping.
Conclusions: Almost all bed-sharing deaths occurred in association with other risk factors despite the finding that most women reporting frequent bed sharing had no risk factors; this suggests that bed sharing alone does not increase the risk of infant death.