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Home > Research Articles > 'Family Bed' Ok for Kids

United Press International

Saturday, August 17, 2002

'Family Bed' Ok for Kids

United Press International - August 14, 2002 LOS ANGELES, Aug 14, 2002 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Bedsharing between parents and children under 6 has no positive or negative effect on the children's subsequent development or behavior, researchers report in the first long-term study of the practice.

"The study was powerful enough to find effects if they were there. We found no effects. So we need to step back and look at pronouncements saying that the practice is harmful," said lead author Paul Okami, a human sexuality researcher and lecturer in psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Many experts and organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics caution, against 'routine' bedsharing" Okami told United Press International. "They say it can cause sleep disorders and distort psychosexual development. However, other experts advocate 'the family bed' and suggest that it leads to a greater capacity for intimacy for the child later in life. Our study attempts to sort out opinion from fact."

The research appears in the August issue of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Okami and his colleagues studied data on 205 children and their parents gathered over 18 years. The children were all born in California in 1975.

In 1975, three-quarters of these families had "unconventional" lifestyles, such as single parenting and collective living. Many endorsed "natural" child-rearing practices, including bedsharing.

The investigators asked the parents to describe family sleeping arrangements at four points in their child's early life, at 5 months and 3, 4 and 6 years.

At 5 months, 35 percent of the parents slept with their child in their room or bed at least occasionally. Nine percent practiced bedsharing as a routine, which continued at 6 percent between ages 3 and 5, and at 3 percent at age 6. Bedsharing with children under age 6 occurred most often among unconventional parents who also called themselves "pronatural" (20 percent). It happened less among conventional parents who were married and living together (2 percent).

The researchers found that children who shared a "family bed" at 5 months had no higher rate of sleep disorders at ages 2 and 3 than their non-bedsharing peers.

At age 6, the investigators found no correlation between bedsharing history and behavioral maturity, emotional maturity, moods or creativity. They also found no data to suggest that bedsharing had any effect on sexual thinking. At age 18, the investigators found that those subjects who slept during early years in a "family bed" showed no impact on their development of interpersonal skills. They also found no evidence connecting a bedsharing history to higher-than-average rates of substance abuse, emotional disability, suicidal thinking, crime or promiscuity.

"The most important implication of this study is that we found nothing," Okami said. "People who have been worrying about psychological damage of children from bedsharing are basically speaking from opinion. We really have no data to suggest that the practice is harmful. Most of the world bedshares."

"The study offers a reflective and well developed review of a misunderstood and unnecessarily maligned family practice," Anita Hurtig, director of the Pediatric Psychosocial Clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told UPI. "In my experience the negative effects of bed sharing and its most frequent occurrence are associated with families in which mothers are likely to keep their children in their bed when fathers have left the family. This kind of situation puts the child in a replacement role, which is likely to distort the child's relationship with mother, such as emphasizing the likelihood of emotional dependence."

Support for the study was provided by the Carnegie Corporation, the United States Public Health Service, the W.T. Grant Foundation, and the University of California Los Angeles. (Reported by Bruce Sylvester from West Palm Beach, Fla.) Copyright 2002 by United Press International.