Young children, especially those under five years of age, are ‘fragile’ and open to many risks. In recent years we have become increasingly aware that some small children die as a result of suffocation while sleeping with their parents. This is a tragic event and one that can be prevented. Parents need to watch over small children and a mother may be breastfeeding even at night; hence we do need them close to us. But sleeping with them in the same bed is hazardous. The key is room sharing, not bed sharing – children near to us but not in the same bed.
The Clinical Research Centre (CRC) at Perak conducted a study to see how common this behaviour is and if we could advice parents to change their practises. We initially followed up 95 mothers who had just given birth. One week later we called them to check their family sleeping behaviour. 61% of these parents were sleeping in the same bed as their baby.
We then followed up another group of 95 mothers who had just given birth. This time we asked them their planned sleeping behaviour before they were discharged from the hospital. Again 61% said they planned to sleep with their baby in the same bed. We then explained to them the risks of suffocation and advised on room sharing and not to bed share. We advised for the baby to be in a cot beside them, or on a separate mattress on the floor. One week later we called them to check their family sleeping behaviour. It was rewarding to note that only 38% of these parents were sleeping in the same bed as their baby. This means that a sizeable number of parents had changed their plans from bed sharing to room sharing. This was an encouraging change and showed that many parents were not previously aware of the risks of bed sharing.
In international data and studies, 15-20% of unexplained deaths in young children are attributed to bed sharing. This is easily prevented. We hope the media can help communicate this message to our public and assist in behaviour change. The key message for families with young children is “Room Share, Don’t Bed Share”. We have attached an educational leaflet for parents for dissemination. We also hope all healthcare professionals who work with pregnant mothers and young children can communicate this important message.
Children are precious to all of us. The death of one child due to a parent rolling over them or accidentally smothering them is a tragedy. This simple message “Room Share, Don’t Bed Share” may save a child’s life. We hope you’ll share it with others.
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Head
David Chang Chee Tao, Research Pharmacist
Clinical Research Centre Perak.