Parents of newborn infants should prepare for a new addition to their family—and a new roommate as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents for at least the first six months of life to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
"It makes a lot of sense," says Cindy Gellner, MD, a pediatrician at University of Utah Health. "Having your baby in the same room will make it easier to monitor them and alert you to any signs of distress."
However, while parents and babies should share a room, they should not share a bed. Instead, babies should be placed in a separate sleeping space like a crib or bassinet. The sleeping space should be free of any soft bedding including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows, and soft toys. They should also be placed on their backs sleeping on a firm and flat surface.
"By putting a baby in a bassinet, you reduce the risk you may accidentally roll on top of them," Gellner says. "Also, by making sure their crib is relatively bare, you reduce the risk of accidental suffocation."
An estimated 3,500 babies die of SIDS each year, according to the AAP. The risk of sleep-related infant death increases five to 10 times if a child under 4 months of age bed shares. The risk of death is 67 times higher when a person sleeps with an infant on a couch or armchair, and 10 times higher when an infant co-sleeps with someone who is impaired.
To help reduce the risk of SIDS, the AAP also recommends:
- Feeding baby breast milk for at least six months. Providing breast milk—even partial breast milk—for at least two months has been shown to significantly lower the risk of infant sleep-related deaths.
- Keeping up to date on routine immunizations.
- Using a pacifier.
- Avoiding sleep devices that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Practicing supervised tummy time while the baby is awake.
If you are concerned about your baby being cold without blankets in the crib, try swaddling your baby in a blanket designed for swaddling—look for ones with Velcro to keep your baby snug—or put them in a sleep sack. Be careful not to overheat your baby, though. Studies suggest being too warm could increase SIDS risk. "Put your baby in layers that you can remove if they get hot," Gellner says. "Keep in mind—if a room is a comfortable temperature for you, it's probably a comfortable temperature for your baby." Weighted swaddles are not safe, according to the AAP.
SIDS risk is highest in the first six months, but studies show that parents shouldn't drop their guard too soon. It may be tempting to put an older infant down for a nap on their stomach or let them doze on a soft couch when you are not right by their side, but it's better to be safe than sorry. "This is your child and their safety should be your main consideration," Gellner says.
* This blog was updated August 29, 2022 to reflect new safe sleeping guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.