In order to prevent cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, pediatricians are now suggesting that parents have their baby sleep on a separate surface in the same room as them for at least six months — preferably a full year.
SIDS, which claims the lives of 3,500 babies each year in the United States, is the leading cause of death in babies between one month and one year old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Previous guidelines for preventing SIDS included having the infant sleep alone on their back, on a firm surface, said Amy Patton, MD, a pediatrician with ProMedica Physicians in Tecumseh, Mich.
Simply having a baby sleep on their back can reduce the risk of SIDS by 40 percent, she said. While that recommendation has been successful in preventing thousands of deaths since the AAP announced it in 1992, the new recommendations take guidelines a step further, Dr. Patton said.
“If the baby is sleeping in the parents’ room, it may further reduce the incidence of SIDS because the parents are in closer proximity to the baby and they’re more aware of what’s going on,” she said. “I’ve been telling my patients and I want the parents to understand: This is not in the parents’ bed. This is in the child’s own bed in the parents’ room.”
“I want the parents to understand: This is not in the parents’ bed. This is in the child’s own bed in the parents’ room.”
Despite the urge to do whatever is necessary to allow both baby and parent to sleep, sharing the same sleeping surface is not safe behavior, Dr. Patton said.
“The biggest risk is that somehow the baby ends up under the parent, pillow or blanket,” she said. “And that’s going to interfere with their ability to breathe. The younger they are, the less likely they are to be able to correct that situation.”
Parents smoking or consuming alcohol and other drugs increases that risk of harm to the baby exponentially, she said.
While six months is the minimum time suggested for parents to share a room with their baby, Dr. Patton said the infant’s ability to roll over and back is a good indicator of when they can sleep in their own room.
“Once they’re able to roll well both ways so if they get on their belly, they’re able to roll themselves back, that SIDS risk goes way down,” she said. “If the baby is able to roll onto their belly and prefers that — as long as they’re able to roll back to their back — the parents don’t have to keep trying to flip them onto their back. They can sleep on their belly.”
Other Safe Sleep Recommendations
In addition, Dr. Patton recommends the following for a safe sleeping environment for your baby:
- On their back
- Firm mattress
- Nothing on top of or propping up the mattress (including pillows, stuffed animals and bumper pads)
- No smoking in the home
- Don’t prop a bottle up to hold it into the baby’s mouth