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Published on November 18, 2016

Share your bedroom with your infant to avoid SIDSShare your bedroom with your infant to avoid SIDS

Many parents know that placing an infant on his or her back is the healthiest way for a baby to sleep. But, did you know that putting your baby’s bed in your room can reduce the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by 50 percent?

The advisory is included in a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and is intended to guide parents on the best ways to make sure an infant gets a safe night sleep.

The policy statement is titled “SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment.” Drawing on recent research, it’s the Academy’s first update since 2011.

Sharon F. Daley, MD, a pediatrician at Seaside Pediatrics in West Yarmouth, reviewed the new report and compared it to the previous Academy report.

“The main take-home message is that babies should always be placed for sleeping on their back, on a firm surface that’s meant to be a sleep surface, like a crib or bassinet, and not have pillows or fluffy stuff that can cause suffocation,” she said. “The guidelines now are a little bit stronger, although not very different.”

The Guidelines

The AAP’s four primary recommendations are:

  • 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 the 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 the baby’s exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs.

“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,” said the AAP report’s lead author, Rachel Moon, MD, in a press release. “Parents should never place the baby on a sofa, couch, or cushioned chair, either alone or sleeping with another person. We know that these surfaces are extremely hazardous.”

One of the report’s new observations is that the practice of skin-to-skin contact after a baby is born, with the infant right on the mom’s chest, seems to have a protective effect, Dr. Daley noted.

“Typically hospitals start that immediately after birth and encourage the babies in the first several days to have that contact,” she said. “It promotes bonding with the parent and it also promotes good breastfeeding. We know that breastfeeding is protective for many reasons. Interestingly, it does reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death.”

The greatest risk for SIDS is for those under 4 months or those who were born premature or with low birth weight.

About 3,500 infants die every year in this country from sleep-related deaths, but not all are from SIDS, said Dr. Daley.

“SIDS is basically unexplained death during sleep,” she said. “Only after a thorough investigation has turned up nothing is a death called SIDS. Accidental suffocation or strangulation, infection, congestion, trauma – these can be sleep-related deaths, but if there’s an explanation, it isn’t called SIDS.”

Let Them Roll

Once babies can roll over on their own, you can leave them in that position, she advised.

“I tell parents, if you go in in the middle of the night and you find your baby on the tummy, you don’t have to roll them back,” she said.

“Parents should always put the baby on the back, but between four and six months, most babies will learn how to roll over. If they roll on their own, then they’re perfectly capable of lifting their head and breathing.

“Some parents swaddle their baby in the beginning for comfort, but once babies start to roll over, they should not be swaddled. A swaddled baby may not be able to roll back and it can interfere with breathing.”

A technical report accompanying the AAP’s guidelines was published in the November 2016 issue of Pediatrics.

“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,” said Dr. Moon. “We know that we can keep a baby safer without spending a lot of money on home monitoring gadgets through simple precautionary measures.”

Learn more about keeping babies safe in bed.