Babies may sleep longer in their own rooms, study says

More fodder for the debate on when babies should be sleeping in their own rooms: A new study in Pediatrics suggests 6 months of age is a good target, which generally contradicts advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Previously, the AAP said that babies should sleep on a separate surface, in the same room, at least until six months and preferably until 1 year old to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), from which the CDC says 3,500 infants die each year.

Beyond its small size, another limitation of the study is that some mothers were given information on reducing the risk of SIDS and recommendations on where babies should sleep, the authors note, though this didn’t appear to influence whether room-sharing occurred. They studied 249 pairs of moms and their first-born infants; nurses visited the moms at home when the babies were one, four, six and nine months old, and the moms answered detailed questions about their babies’ sleep habits, like where they slept, how often they woke up at night and their longest stretch of slumber.

The study said the early decisions had lasting effects, with babies at 30 months sleeping 45 minutes more per night than those who had shared a room at 9 months old.

In a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers led by Dr. Ian Paul, professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, took a close look at the effects that sleeping arrangements have on young children.

“We think that a lot of the problems with SIDS is that babies don’t arouse”, she said, adding that if babies sleep too deeply or for too long, some experts believe this could put them at risk.

A new study found that babies sleep more when they sleep in their own rooms. Sleep duration, location and patterns were also assessed at 12 and 30 months. According to Moon’s previous study, room-sharing reduces SIDS incidence by up to 50%, though it’s not clear why this happens.

They recommended removing the guideline for parents to share rooms with their infants at night through age 1 until further evidence supporting its benefits could be found.

The study noted that babies who slept with their parents slept the same amount as babies who slept alone but at interrupted stretches of sleep. About 11 percent of babies, however, were still room-sharing at nine months. SIDS kills around 3,700 babies in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC – affecting nearly every 1 in 1,000 babies, a considerable figure.

“Based on the data we’ve provided and from others about safety and effectiveness”, Paul said, “6 months would seem to be a good time to transition a baby out of the parents’ room”.

But Moon, a SIDS researcher, cautioned in response to Paul’s study that just because sleep is uninterrupted doesn’t mean it’s better.

Authors Dr Rachel Moon and Dr Fern Hauck, from the University of Virginia, state: ‘Perhaps the emphasis should not be on the elimination of room- sharing itself, but on providing guidance regarding establishment of bedtime routines’.

Breastfeeding has also been linked to a lower risk of SIDS. “I might chalk it up to a parent’s sixth sense when a baby is nearby and making erratic noises or not that helps save these babies”.

The Penn State sample was also “not terribly diverse in terms of socioeconomic or racial diversity”, which could cast doubts upon how much this research speaks for the general population, Moon said. Basically, families in this study were overwhelmingly white and wealthier than the average American.

He said parents should first consider giving a baby their own room from the age of six months. Pediatricians should remind parents who decide to move their babies to their own rooms to make sure the new arrangement is safe by removing pillows, blankets, stuffed animals and bedding that can block infants’ breathing.

“Our research suggests that parents respond to these brief awakenings, which interrupts both parent and child sleep when they are room-sharing, but not as much when the baby is sleeping in a separate room”, Paul said by email. It’s also important to share with parents that the data simply don’t support the need for room sharing after six months.