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Infants and parents sharing a room could cut SIDS risk in half, report suggests

Oct 24, 2016

Parents should share a room with their babies for at least the first six months of their lives, according to updated guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The new report, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, says sharing a room could reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related infant deaths by as much as 50%. Optimally, infants should sleep in the same room as parents until they're one year old, the AAP says.

The reasoning is that it's easier to comfort, feed and monitor the baby when they are close by. The academy warns, however, that infants need to have their own separate sleep surface, such as a crib or bassinet. And they should never sleep on a soft surface like a sofa, couch or armchair. According to the AAP:

Although there is no specific evidence for moving an infant to his or her own room before one year of age, the first six months are particularly critical, because the rates of SIDS and other sleep-related deaths, particularly those occurring in bed-sharing situations, are highest in the first six months. Room-sharing reduces SIDS risk and removes the possibility of suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment that may occur when the infant is sleeping in the adult bed.

Acknowledging that parents may sometimes fall asleep during feeding, for the first time, the AAP also gives recommendations on making an adult bed safer for a baby. Pillows, loose sheets, blankets and other soft bedding that could suffocate the baby should be removed from the bed.

This is especially true for moms who breastfeed -- which evidence suggests reduces the risk of SIDS by nearly 70%. Lori Feldman-Winter is a professor of pediatrics at Cooper Medical School and co-author of the AAP policy statement. She told The Washington Post:

The process of breastfeeding renders a mom sleepy, physiologically. If a mother thinks she may fall asleep while feeding, we actually recommend that she feed the baby in the bed, because feeding the baby in a sofa or an armchair is more hazardous if she falls asleep.

Other AAP recommendations on creating a safe sleep environment include: 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; and avoid baby's exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs.

Dr. David Mendez is a neonatologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. He told CBS he’s more concerned about other risk factors for SIDS, such as smoking and excess bedding, than room-sharing. Mendez said:

Room sharing is probably the most controversial recommendation. Parents have strong feelings one way or the other. Some parents want the baby in the bed right next to them; some parents want the baby to have its own room. I would rather have the parents put the baby in a separate room if they’re smokers than room share. Having the baby on a firm surface on his back and keeping soft pillows and loose bedding that the baby can get tangled up in out of the bed or crib — those things probably play a much bigger role in preventing SIDS than being in the same room with the baby.

About 3,500 infants die in the U.S. every year from sleep-related deaths, including SIDS, according to the AAP. Increased awareness in the 1990s with the introduction of the Back-to-Sleep campaign led to a decline in these incidents, but rates have since plateaued.

Report authors hope these recommendations can restart that decline and ease the anxiety of bringing home a newborn. According to lead author Rachel Moon:

We want to share this information in a way that doesn't scare parents but helps to explain the real risks posed by an unsafe sleep environment. We know that we can keep a baby safer without spending a lot of money on home monitoring gadgets but through simple precautionary measures.