Bed sharing does not lead to stronger infant-mother attachment or maternal bonding

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

New research led by the University’s School of Psychology has found that there is no link between bed sharing, infant-mother attachment, and infant behavioural outcomes.

Contrary to previous beliefs that bed sharing is beneficial (or even required) for babies to develop a secure attachment style and for mothers to develop a strong bond to their baby, researchers have found that it is neither associated with positive or negative outcomes related to infant attachment and maternal bonding.

There is a lot of controversial debate about bed sharing by parents and the infant sleep literature, in particular. Notably, researchers and practitioners recommend against bed sharing, particularly before four months of age due to the increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

In reality, parents quite often share their bed with their baby due to several reasons such as practicality and breastfeeding, or because they follow the idea of ‘attachment parenting’.

The research paper, published by the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, analyses data from 178 infants and their parents, at term, three, six and eighteen months. No associations between bed sharing during the first six months and infant-mother attachment and infant behavioural outcomes (attention levels/hyperactivity and task persistence) at eighteen months were found. Similarly, there were no associations between bed sharing during the first six months and maternal bonding and sensitivity in interacting with the infant at consequent assessment points.

This new study, led by Dr Ayten Bilgin (Kent) alongside Dieter Wolke, Professor of Developmental Psychology and Individual Differences at the University of Warwick concludes that longer follow-up studies on effects on child development may be required.

Dr Bilgin said: ‘A lot of people think that bed sharing is necessary to promote secure attachment with infants. However, there is little research in this area and quite mixed evidence. More insight into the outcomes of bed sharing is required to better inform parents, guardians and practitioners.’

Professor Wolke said: ‘Around a third of all parents share their bed with their infant during the first 18 months of life occasionally to most nights in this UK study. We found the practice was associated with ease of breastfeeding and dealing with night waking of the baby.’

The research paper ‘Bed-Sharing in the First 6 Months: Associations with Infant-Mother Attachment, Infant Attention, Maternal Bonding and Sensitivity at 18 Months’ is published by the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000966