Newborn babies should share their mother’s bed until they are at least three years old, a paediatrician has claimed.

The suggestion, which goes against health warnings, suggests that babies’ hearts are under more stress if they are left to sleep on their own.

It claims that sleeping on their mother’s chest provides young babies with a better rest than being put in a cot for the night.

The suggestion comes from Dr Nils Bergman, a paediatrician at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who found that sleeping alone makes it harder for the mother to bond with her child.

Brain development can also be damaged by nightly separation, which can lead to behavioural problems in later life, the research claims.

But letting a newborn sleep in his or her mother’s bed goes against previous warnings on the controversial issue, which urge parents to let babies sleep in their own cots.

It follows years of mounting concerns over cot deaths in Britain, and the risk that a mother could injure or suffocate her child while sleeping.

A recent study of sudden infant deaths in the UK found that almost two-thirds of unexplained deaths happened when bed-sharing was involved.

While the National Childbirth Trust is in favour of newborns sleeping in their mothers’ beds, under a strict set of guidelines, the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths remains against it.

It recommends that the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot in his or her parent’s room – but not in their bed.

Dr Bergman, however, insisted that cot deaths and other infant injuries were not caused by the presence of the mother.

“When babies are smothered and suffer cot deaths, it is not because their mother is present,” he told the Daily Mail.

“It is because of other things: toxic fumes, cigarettes, alcohol, big pillows and dangerous toys.”

Dr Bergman, who founded a movement called ‘Kangaroo Mother Care’, emphasising the benefits of skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn, studied the sleeping patterns of 16 infants for the research.

He found that the babies hearts were under up to three times more stress when they slept in a cot, rather than on their mother’s chest.

Just six babies in the research group had a quiet night’s sleep on their own.

The study also revealed disruption to the brain sleep cycle, which is vital in the organ’s development, in babies sleeping in cots.

Dr Bergman warned that a lack of sleep at this stage could cause behavioural problems for the child in later life.

Disrupted sleep and stress to the heart could make it difficult for them to form relationships, he claimed.

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