Children should sleep in the same room as their parents for at least the first six months and ideally stay for the first year, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The recommendation comes via a policy statement that says infants should sleep in the same room, but not the same bed, as their parents. Instead, a crib or bassinet is recommended to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or other forms of crib death.
Experts don’t know exactly what causes SIDS, defined by the Mayo Clinic as the “unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because the infants often die in their cribs.” However, experts theorize that a baby’s brain may not be able to regulate breathing in combination with environmental factors like soft furniture, which can lead to asphyxia or nasal obstruction. Per the report, parents can reduce the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent when they share a room with their infant.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 3,500 deaths from SIDS and other sudden, unexpected infant deaths in the U.S. each year. “These deaths occur among infants less than 1 year old and have no immediately obvious cause,” the CDC states on its website.
The AAP said in a press release that the number of SIDS cases decreased in the 1990s after a national safe sleep campaign but has plateaued in recent years. The AAP also recommends that parents do the following to lower their baby’s risk of SIDS:
- Place the baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet.
- Avoid use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
- Avoid baby’s exposure to smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs.
- Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
- Do not use home monitors or commercial devices, including wedges or positioners, marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Infants should receive all recommended vaccinations.
- Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development.
“Although there is no specific evidence for moving an infant to his or her own room before 1 year of age, room sharing during the first six months is especially critical because the rates of SIDS and other sleep-related deaths, particularly those occurring in bed-sharing situations, are highest during that period,” Patricia Gabbe, MD, a pediatrician at the Ohio State University Medical Center and founder of Moms2B, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Gabbe says the new recommendation is a “good idea,” noting that it helps with nighttime breastfeeding and avoids the temptation to let the baby fall asleep in bed with parents (since the crib is nearby). Not only is sleeping in the same room soothing for the baby, “keeping the baby in the same room is comforting for the parents also,” she says. However, Gabbe stresses, “We must encourage room sharing, not bed sharing. Falling asleep with the baby in bed with parents is very dangerous.”
Danelle Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at California’s Providence Saint John’s Health Center, agrees but tells Yahoo Beauty that she’s unsure how she’ll guide the families of her patients through the recommendations. While she stresses that SIDS is terrible, she also points out that some babies are noisy sleepers, and that can keep worried parents awake.
While a bassinet is helpful when babies are small, when they get old enough to roll over, a crib is a better sleep space for them. “But not every parent’s room is going to allow space to have a crib,” Fisher says. “While these recommendations are excellent in what they’re trying to prevent, I do worry about the logistics.”
She suggests that parents who are unsure of how to navigate the new recommendations talk to their child’s pediatrician. As for the looser recommendation of sharing a room for up to a year, Gabbe says that the rate of SIDS decreases as a baby approaches 12 months, but “it could be a parent’s choice.”