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Room sharing: a grade-A idea (except when it’s not)

“Can we talk about these new room sharing guidelines? I’ve already moved the baby into his own room!”

This question came from my sweet cousin, just ten weeks after having her second baby.

Since this fall’s release of the American Academy of Pediatrics update to its Safe Sleep guidelines, moms everywhere have been taking a close look at the sleep habits of their families. Likewise, pediatricians have been updating their knowledge about sleep and sleep safety in infants.

Room sharing is now recommended for twelve months, and for at least the first six months of an infant’s life. This means putting a baby in his or her own safe sleep space (bassinet or crib), free of all loose objects, but close enough to the parent’s bed to facilitate checking on and soothing the baby. The recommendation is graded A, meaning there is strong evidence to support the recommendation.

That’s great … except for a few things. First, anyone who sleeps with a baby in their room can tell you that babies are surprisingly loud. Some are so loud that they keep the adults in their room awake. They sigh, they grunt, they make soft whining sounds, they kick and wiggle — and that’s when they are asleep! My cousin’s baby was such a “grunty sleeper” that her mom reported getting terrible sleep when the baby was in the room.  She moved him out after breastfeeding was well established, preferring a volume-controlled monitor to let her know when he was genuinely awake.

The second issue is the duration of the room sharing recommendation. Once a baby hits six months, they begin to understand the concept of together versus separate. They “know” you are there. They begin to vocalize to call you and become upset when separated. Moving a child at age one from a parent’s room into their own is difficult for some families. So, there are some developmental issues that arise when a baby continues to room-share past six months. The guidelines don’t tell us how to handle these issues, which is unfortunate.

For parents of newborns, the recommendations are easy. From day one, the baby should room share but not co-sleep. After that, room sharing becomes tricky. This pediatrician’s advice is to talk your individual situation out with your doctor. They can help you decide what is both safe for your baby and practical for your family.

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