Has your baby “overstayed his welcome” in your room? Maybe you should finally ease him into “moving out” for his own sake. Learn more about the dangers of bed-sharing here and some tips for moving baby into his own room.
At what age should a baby sleep in his own room?
As parents, we want to ensure that our babies are always safe. We want to keep an eye on them, even when they are asleep. For this reason, we welcome them into our rooms and designate a special spot for them where they can rest safely and soundly. This enables us to attend to their needs as quickly as possible.
Paediatric experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that babies should share their parents’ room (but not bed) until at least six months, and ideally for a year in order to minimise the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
But a study published in Pediatrics is recommending otherwise.
Would you let your baby sleep alone at 4 months?
Study on baby sleeping independently
Ian Paul and his team analysed data from 230 families in a randomised, controlled trial for up to two years.
Half the mums in the trial were encouraged to move their baby at three months old to the room where they wanted to child to be sleeping in by age one.
The remaining 50% “received intensive advice on reducing SIDS risk, in which nurses visited the home and provided specific feedback on improving the safety of the sleep environment.”
So, at what age should the baby sleep in his own room?
The answer, surprisingly, is at just four months.
What they discovered:
- Babies who slept in their own room after four months, in general, slept for longer. For perspective, Nine-month-old room-sharing infants slept an average of 9.75 hours per night, compared to 10.5 hours for those who began sleeping alone by 4 months and 10 hours for those who began sleeping alone between four and nine months.
- Babies sleeping in their own rooms after the age of four months also slept for longer stretches of time. They slept 9 hours compared to 8.3 hours for those infants who slept in their parents’ room between 4 and 9 months and 7.4 hours for those who continued to share their parents’ room after 9 months old.
In contrast with common recommendations, Paul has concerns about the (unintended) consequences of allowing babies to sleep with their parents for so long.
“There are so many other factors in child and parent health that are consequences of this decision,” he said.
His biggest concern is the impracticality of common advice related to sending kids to their own room at around a year old.
“That’s the worst time to make a change from a developmental perspective,” he said. This is the age when separation anxiety in children peaks.
If baby co-sleeps, ensure his safety at all times. | Image source: iStock
Different perspectives on room-sharing
Jodi Mindell, an associate director of the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia agrees with Paul’s reasoning.
“We want babies and parents to get a good night’s sleep because we know that will affect infant safety, infant development and family wellbeing.
It’s a balance of trying to make sure babies are safe, everyone’s getting enough sleep and everyone’s developing appropriately,” she said.
She points out previous research that indicates that babies go to bed earlier and sleep for longer periods at a time when they sleep in their own rooms.
“I think the AAP guidelines, unfortunately, scare parents, and we don’t want parents scared and avoiding doing what’s going to work best for their family. You don’t want parents resenting their child because they don’t get a break,” Mindell added.
She also points out that mums could be at a greater risk for postpartum depression, as well as accidental injuries around the house if they don’t get a good night’s sleep.
Image source: iStock
Meanwhile, Rachel Moon, who is the lead author of the AAP recommendations and head of paediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, prefers to stay cautious.
“We’re being as careful as we can,” Moon says. “Yes, it’s important that families get enough sleep. It’s also important that they have a baby that wakes up in the morning.”
To this, Paul disagrees, pointing out that room-sharing parents had less-safe sleep practices. He says there was a greater chance of babies being exposed to risky items when they room-share with their parents. These items include pillows, blankets and soft toys.
This is because the likelihood of room-sharing little ones joining their parents in bed is four times higher than those sleeping independently by 4 months and 9 months old.
Dr Harvey Karp, the author of the bestselling book Happiest Baby On the Block, recommends moving the baby into his own room at around 6-7 months. According to him, after that, infants become much more tuned in to the particulars of their surroundings and may be more resistant to the change.
“By 8 months, many babies suddenly notice—and really care—if there’s no one nearby. This can especially be a problem if they’re used to having company in their room but now find themselves totally alone.
Separation worry is especially stressful for babies with a sensitive or cautious temperament,” he said.
The AAP, however, remains firm on its recommendations, at least for the time being.
Mums and dads, after carefully weighing the pros and cons of all recommendations, the ultimate decision is yours.
Keeping baby safe in his sleep – regardless of what room he’s in
With experts in the same field recommending conflicting advice, confusion is to be expected.
But if you are thinking, “We just want to know what’s best for our baby,” then the recommendation is that you need to make the best decision with your baby’s well-being and safety at heart, with the available information.
If your baby shares a room with you:
- Try to ensure he sleeps in his own cot. If he joins you in bed, parents must ensure that baby is not at risk of SIDS.
- Baby should never sleep with his parents if one or both of you has had too much alcohol, or taken sleep-inducing medication.
- If your baby sleeps in your bed, take precautions to ensure he does not roll off the bed.
- Do not let newborns bed-share with older siblings.
If your baby sleeps in his own room:
- Ensure his cot is free from unnecessary bedding and clutter. This includes pillows, blankets, bolsters and soft toys. You can control the temperature in the room with a fan/AC and by dressing baby in age-appropriate sleepwear.
- Invest in a good baby monitor that lets you see as well as hear your little one.
- If your helper sleeps in your baby’s room, advise her to never take the baby to her own bed.
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Tips for moving baby into his own room
Once your baby hits his first birthday and he’s safely past the age where he’s at risk for SIDS, you can start transitioning him to sleeping in his own room.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially if your child is still going through separation anxiety or if he’s already used to sleeping with you in your room. But here are some things you can try to make the transition of the baby moving out of your bedroom into his own room a smooth process:
- Do it gradually. Going cold turkey on this won’t work. You’ll just find your baby crying and you will never have your piece of mind. Try easing into it by spending 1 or 2 months in the baby’s new room before the big switcheroo. Use it for pleasant, quiet times like feedings, massages, singing, naps or rocking.
- Stick to your routine. While the transition is ongoing, continue all the great routines and sleep cues that your baby loves, whether it’s a warm bath, a bedtime story or cuddles at night.
- Get your baby used to sleeping farther and farther away from you in your room. Try moving your bassinet a few feet away for a couple of nights and see how your baby reacts. Do it gradually until your baby is used to sleeping away from you.
- Ensure baby’s safety before the switch. For this change it’s not really about when your baby is ready, but when mum and dad are ready to have their precious bub sleeping in a separate room. The key to easing separation anxiety on your part is to make sure that your baby’s new room will be safe and secure. Install a baby monitor to check on your baby from time to time.
- Give reassurance. According to Dr Karp, don’t be shocked if your little one protests for a few nights when you leave. If this happens, he recommends, picking up the baby right away and comforting her (avoid chatting too much or nursing her; otherwise you will accidentally be encouraging her protests). When she’s already calm, put her down on her bed again. Repeat this routine as often as needed.