Infants should share parents' room for 1st year, report finds

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Infants should sleep in the same room as parents to lower the risk of sleep-related deaths, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a policy statement released Monday.

The professional group, which offers guidance on child rearing, now advises that newborns share their parents' bedroom, sleeping on a separate, firm surface such as a crib or bassinet, for at least the first six months of life and, ideally, the first full year.

Such room-sharing lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, by as much as 50%, the academy said.

The academy’s statement stresses that parents never place infants on a soft surface such as a couch or cushioned chair, instead recommending a firm, bare surface covered with a tight-fitting sheet – no blankets, pillows or soft toys.

Infants should not share a bed with parents or rest on soft bedding intended for adults.

Approximately 3,500 infants die each year from sleep-related deaths in the United States, the organization said. Such fatalities include SIDS, accidental suffocation and strangulation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants sleep on a firm, bare surface covered with a tight-fitting sheet – no blankets, pillows or soft toys. (Photo: Artfoliophoto, Getty Images)
The American Academy of Pediatrics had previously recommended room-sharing sans bed-sharing to parents, but had not clarified how long they should do so. Organizations in Britain and Australia have advised parents to room share for 6 to 12 months.

Alice Callahan, author of The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby's First Year, said the academy's task of issuing child-rearing advice to Americans with a diversity of cultural beliefs and experiences isn't easy.

While evidence backs the organization's advice to room share, Callahan said, studies haven't yet shown how long room-sharing remains important. She described the yearlong recommendation as "cautious," acknowledging that many parents will struggle with it.

"Many find—and this is shown in the research, too—that they sleep better with their babies in a separate room," said Callahan, who studied fetal physiology and holds a PhD. in nutrition.

"So many of the decisions parents make about sleep are made in desperation, just trying to get a reasonable night of sleep so that they can function during the day. It's important to consider safety, but there is also a safety risk associated with severe sleep deprivation if it makes you more likely to have a car accident, for example."

The new guidelines recognize that parents often feed their newborns in a sleep-deprived state. Lori Feldman-Winter, the statement's co-author and a professor of pediatrics at Cooper Medical School, urged parents to prepare for this.

“If you are feeding your baby and think that there’s even the slightest possibility that you may fall asleep, feed your baby on your bed, rather than a sofa or cushioned chair," she said.

Infants remain at an increased risk for SIDS during their first 1 to 4 months of life, the academy noted, though soft bedding, which can lead to accidental strangulation, poses a threat to newborns over 4 months.

The report is titled “SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment." It appears  in next month’s issue of Pediatrics, marking the first update to the academy’s policy since 2011.

Rachel Moon, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and lead author of the report, said the recommendations aim to provide clarity for parents.

“We know that parents may be overwhelmed with a new baby in the home, and we want to provide them with clear and simple guidance on how and where to put their infant to sleep,” Moon said.

By Josh Hafner , USA TODAY