TAKING CARA BABIES
Room Sharing for the Entire First Year;
A New Infant Sleep Recommendation
Cara Dumaplin, Founder
There it was loud and clear blasting from my television on an October morning in 2016: “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies should sleep in mom’s room FOR THE ENTIRE FIRST YEAR!” Thank you, Good Morning America.
That morning, when I saw the new guideline of room-sharing for the ENTIRE FIRST YEAR, my heart dropped, because in my experience as a nurse and baby sleep expert, many babies after the ages of 4-6 months do sleep better in a separate room. No, not all, but many.
So what exactly are the sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)?
- 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.
- Share a bedroom with parents, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns 1 but at least for the first six months. Room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
- Avoid baby’s exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs.
Why would they make this NEW recommendation of room sharing until the baby turns ONE?
Well, they want to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. (Don’t we all!) So many professionals were declaring that this recommendation was “admittedly cautious,” but even I thought… “If it decreases SIDS, it must be the answer. Right?”
At the same time, I know as a baby sleep expert that parents and babies often don’t sleep as well while room-sharing after about 4-6 months, and this can have a devastating impact on the entire family.
Why don’t babies sleep as well while room sharing after 4-6 months? We all have “mini wake-ups” multiple times a night, when we simply check in with our surroundings and drift back off to dreamland. Babies do the same. BUT… after about 4-6 months of age, babies are suddenly AWARE of the world around them, and seeing mom or dad (or even just knowing they are there) can cause “mini wake-ups” to turn into full-blown night wakings. This can occur as often as every 45-120 minutes ALL NIGHT LONG.
Knowing the recommendation for room-sharing AND the reduced quality of sleep that can come from room-sharing beyond 4-6 months, I was torn. My heart broke for new parents who wanted to set their babies up to be great sleepers, but feared death for their little one by putting him/her in a separate room. That’s an awful judgement call to have to make. “Do I help my baby and family get more sleep at the risk of something horrible happening to my baby?” No parent should ever have to make that call.
It was a relief to me that several months later, in June of 2017, a follow-up study was published in Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. This study calls out the recommendation of the AAP: there simply is not any substantial evidence that room sharing prevents SIDS for older babies.
(Did you notice who called out the AAP’s recommendation? Yep, that’s the “Official Journal of the AAP.”)
This new study also shares very important information about room sharing and baby sleep. The research found that room-sharing beyond 4-9 months actually resulted in LESS NIGHTTIME SLEEP and MORE NIGHT WAKINGS. This is NOT merely an inconvenience, but it actually impacts every facet of our babies’ being! The pediatric experts in the study point out that, for babies “inadequate sleep affects nearly every health domain, including emotional regulation, mood, and behavior in infancy and childhood.” This means that interrupted sleep in infancy should be a major factor in choosing where our babies sleep.
The study went on to find that babies who room-share beyond 4 months of age were also four times more likely to be pulled into their parents’ bed during the night, and two times more likely to have pillows, blankets, and other unsafe sleeping materials close by during sleep. Pulling a baby into bed and sleeping with loose bedding is known to increase the risk of SIDS. So, keeping the baby in the same room beyond 4-6 months actually increased parental behaviors that are known to cause SIDS.
Please know, I am all too familiar with pulling my baby into my bed in a sleep deprived moment of desperation. (You can see my personal story here.)
Furthermore, the AAP’s recommendation of room sharing for the entire first year didn’t take into account the WHOLE picture of infant sleep safety. Dr. Ian Paul, the lead author in the 2017 study, says that infant safety is our priority. At the same time, he points out that SIDS is not the only sleep safety issue. There are other FAR MORE COMMON safety risks that put our babies in danger. These safety risks are the ones resulting from sleep deprivation! What are those risks? Poor bonding with baby, marital struggles, Postpartum Depression, anxiety, car accidents, and even Shaken Baby Syndrome. Sometimes we don’t consider how truly DANGEROUS sleep deprivation is. Did you know our brains actually act drunk when we are sleep deprived? It’s true!
Parents, did you catch all of that?
- The year-long recommendation is admittedly “cautious” and based on evidence that has been called into question.
- New studies demonstrate that room-sharing beyond 4-9 months is associated with less sleep and poorer quality sleep for infants as well as tied to a greater use of unsafe sleeping practices.
- The risks linked to parental sleep deprivation (accidents, suffering relationships, PPD, and inability to effectively care for baby) occur much more frequently than SIDS.
Please don’t misinterpret my thoughts. I absolutely encourage room sharing in the first few months of life and even longer if that’s best for the family. BUT, what are new parents to do with this recommendation of room sharing for the entire first year if it isn’t working?
Consider it! But take in ALL the information about infant safety. Weigh the risks and benefits and trust your inner voice. Yes, you know that voice. The one that says, “I know what is best for my baby and our family.”
If you are struggling with sleep deprivation, please know baby sleep help is available. The Taking Cara Babies courses and resources use evidenced-based research to help families sleep. Yes, room sharing is absolutely acceptable if that’s what parents choose. In fact, it is encouraged in the newborn class. Parents who are utilizing “Navigating Months 3 + 4” can choose whether room sharing is right for them. “The ABC’s of Sleep” is a 14 night plan to 10-12 hour nights in the crib. You will be encouraged to give your baby his/her own space for the first 14 nights, but beyond that… you can choose the room arrangement that fits best for your family!
As a neonatal nurse, mom of four, and wife of a pediatrician, Cara has created classes and resources to help babies and parents sleep, allowing them to reclaim the joy of parenthood. Since the birth of Taking Cara Babies in 2013, Cara has truly been able to see her passion come to life as she educates, empowers, and encourages parents all over the world.
Cara's happy place is the beach with her laughing children. But if she can't get that far, you might find her in the Joanna Gaines section of Target, sipping on coffee and wearing yoga pants.
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