Toddlers who share a bed with their parents are at higher risk of asthma, warn researchers.
New research suggests bed sharing may lead to an increased risk of asthma in later childhood although it is unclear how the practice could trigger the breathing disorder.
Warnings were issued earlier this month about the dangers of parents sharing a bed or sofa with a sleeping baby.
This was found to raise the risk of sudden infant death syndrome up to the age of one year.
The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma symptoms in the world, affecting 1.1 million children.
In the latest study, Dutch researchers investigated 6,160 mothers and their children in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
They collected information via a questionnaire on wheezing and asthma symptoms every year from the age of one to six years.
They also assessed sleeping patterns at the ages of two and 24 months, using a parental questionnaire.
Bed-sharing was defined as the child sharing a bed with either the mother or both parents, says a report published online in the European Respiratory Journal.
Children who had bed-shared during infancy – around the age of two months - did not have a higher risk of wheezing during their first six years of life, or of getting diagnosed with asthma.
But bed-sharing at the age of two years was associated with an increased chance of wheezing subsequently - when the children reached the age of three to six years - and with an increased chance of being diagnosed with asthma at age six.
This finding could be explained by parents taking the decision to share a bed with their child if they notice asthma symptoms as a way of monitoring their children.
However, this notion was not confirmed by the analysis, because toddlers who wheezed as infants were not more likely to bed-share at the age of two years than toddlers who had not wheezed in infancy.
Dr Maartje Luijk, from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, said: ‘The current study shows that there is an association between toddlers who share a bed with their parents at the age of two years and wheezing and asthma in later childhood.
‘We postulated that the finding may be explained by parents taking the decision to share a bed with their toddler to monitor their asthma symptoms.
‘However our results found no associations between pre-existing asthma symptoms in the first two years of life and bed-sharing at the age of 2 years.
‘This could suggest that bed-sharing increases the risk of asthma in some way, but this study does not provide causal evidence of this.
‘There could be a number of factors at play here. For example, bed-sharing families might be more likely to report wheezing because they are more attentive or aware of their children’s breathing.
‘Alternatively, families might perceive wheezing as problematic and as something that could lead to sleep problems, which might in turn elicit bed-sharing to better monitor these problems.
‘More research is needed to identify the factors that may impact on the development of asthma through bed-sharing.’
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