Listen: Dr Annemarie Christie chats with the Hope 103.2 Breakfast team on the benefits of sharing a room with your baby.
Placing babies on their backs to sleep has been a well-known parenting practice since the 1990s, helping to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
But now, experts say sharing a room with a baby can also help—just don’t put them in the same bed.
In Finland, since 1930s the government has been giving all expectant mothers a starter maternity kit, including a box that’s used as the baby’s bed. One of the reasons for this was to encourage mothers to have their babies sleep separately, rather than sharing a bed. As a result of the starter kits, the infant mortality rates dropped dramatically.
The American Academy of Pediatrics concurs with the idea of not sharing a bed, but instead sharing a room. It has been suggested that parents should share a room with their baby for at least the first six months of their life.
Benefits of Sharing a Room with your Baby
Children’s specialist Annemarie Christie of The Children’s Doctor clinic told Hope 103.2 that sharing a room can help a baby to keep breathing.
The baby can be stirred from their deep sleep by unpredictable noise, such as a parent snoring or rolling over. Likewise, if the baby makes noises during the night, it can stir the parent to get up and check on the baby.
Dr Christie explained, “There is less chance of the baby forgetting to breathe; with SIDS we think they can forget to breathe and may not have enough stimulation”.
The unpredictability of noise is important, she said. Sound machines that play white noise may not be as effective, because the consistent, monotonous background noise they create can in fact assist deep sleep.
Safe Sleeping Tips for your Baby
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests other simple ways to create a safer sleeping environment for your baby:
- Avoid pillows, blankets and stuffed toys, which carry a risk of suffocation
- Offer a pacifier during nap and bedtime
- Place your baby on their back to increase airflow
- Do not share your bed with your baby; the soft surface can create the same suffocating risk pillows and stuffed toys
- Limit unnecessary things in the crib; only have the mattress and a tight-fitting sheet
Sleeping on their Back Reduces SIDS
Almost 90 per cent of Sudden Infant Death cases occur within the first six months of a baby’s life. This was the reason for the launch of a campaign called ‘Back to Sleep’ in 1994. Since then the rate of SIDS in Australia has declined by over 80 per cent.
Dr Christie said the same advice still stands today.
“There is a lot of strong evidence that babies should only sleep on their backs,” she said.
But What if My Baby Won’t Go to Sleep?
Even with good scientific evidence, many mothers have come to Dr Christie, concerned that their babies are unable to fall asleep on their backs. Placing them on their stomachs seems to have a better sleeping outcome.
But Dr Christie says it’s important for the parent to persevere with their baby.
“They can [sleep on their backs] – it just might take them longer to learn how to do it.”