The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their safe sleep guidelines in July, stating they now recommend that parents share a room – but not a bed – with their infants for at least the first 6 months of life. Previously, the recommendation had been for 12 months.
While the AAP doesn’t state their reason for the change, I suspect it’s because the risk of SIDS drops radically after the first four months, and 90% of deaths occur in the first 6 months of life.
In other words, the risk of SIDS is much, much lower (90% lower) in the second six months of life.
Researchers don’t really know why sharing a room with a parent reduces the risk of SIDS, but hypothesize that perhaps the sounds of other humans in the room prevents the newborn from sleeping too deeply.
It is not known, unfortunately, known if room sharing with siblings provides the same protective benefit.
As a sleep coach, I was very happy to read of the updated recommendations because I almost always recommend not room sharing during sleep training.
Often times, this looks like having one or both parents sleep in the living room, since most of my clients are NYC-based and don’t have guest rooms.
Other times, if the baby is breastfed, we will have the non-breastfeeding parent (if there are two parents) sleep in the bedroom with the baby while the other parent sleeps in the living room. That’s because the smell of breastmilk very close by can make it harder for a baby to sleep through the night. Most of the time, this easily helps the baby sleep a lot more and cry a lot less.
A third option, if there is a sibling in a separate bedroom and the parents are planning to have the children share a room, is to move the baby into the sibling’s bedroom and move the sibling – temporarily – into the parents’ bedroom, into a floor bed. That way the baby can learn to sleep in the bedroom where they will eventually be sleeping every night with a sibling.
This, of course, requires a sibling that is willing to give up their bed for a few nights. But most children like the idea of having “a little nest” (it helps to describe it appealingly!) on the floor of a parent’s bedroom. And young children don’t feel the hard floor the way we adults too, so it shouldnt’ be too uncomfortable. I don't recommend having the older child sleep in the parent's bed, even temporarily, because that can be a hard habit to break!
Once the baby has met the parents’ sleep goals – and the goals should always be set by a parent, not by a sleep coach – the baby can resume roomsharing with either the adults or children in the family.
The AAP still strenuously advises never sharing a bed (or worse, a couch) with an infant.
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Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.