Background There is general agreement that in some circumstances, sharing a sleep surface of any kind with an infant increases the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy. There is a paucity of research conducted in Australia examining this issue. This study examines the frequency and distribution of sleep-related infant deaths in a defined population, and reports the proportion that occurred in the context of bed-sharing. Methods A retrospective population-based case series study was conducted of infants (≤365 days) who died in a sleeping context during the period 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2010 in the state of Victoria, Australia. Information about the infant, caregiver, sleeping environment and bed-sharing was collected from a review of the coroner’s death investigation record. Results During the 3-year study period, 72 infant deaths occurred in a sleeping context. Of these, 33 (45.8 %) occurred in the context of bed-sharing: n = 7 in 2008; n = 11 in 2009; and n = 15 in 2010. Further analysis of the 33 deaths occurring in the context of bed-sharing showed that in this group, bed-sharing was largely intentional, habitual and most often involved the mother as one of the parties. Conclusions Given the case series nature of the study design, a causal relationship between bed-sharing and infant death could not be inferred. However the fact that nearly half of all sleep-related deaths occurred in the context of bed-sharing, provides strong support for the need to undertake definitive analytic studies in Australia so that evidence-based advice can be provided to families regarding the safety of bed-sharing practices.
- Fatal sleep accidents
- Sudden infant death syndrome
- Sudden unexpected deaths in infancy