Quit room-sharing with your six-month-old: You'll both sleep better for it

Despite earlier infant sleep guidelines, new research says keeping your baby in your bedroom past six months leads to less sleep and harmful bedtime habits.

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There’s about to be an enormous collective sigh of relief on blogs, in Mommy and Me groups and in postnatal classes across North America: It’s OK to move your six-month-old baby out of your room. (You could even do it tonight!)

According to a new study published today in Pediatrics, room-sharing with your baby past six months is more likely to harm than help her. This flies in the face of the revised recommendation made by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just last fall, which states that infants should “sleep in their parents’ room on a separate surface, ideally for the entire first year but at least for the first six months.”

Researchers compared babies who were room-sharing with their parents to those sleeping independently, and found infants still bunking with mom and dad past the six-month mark were at a definite disadvantage. According to their data, babies who stayed in parents’ rooms until nine months or a year got less nighttime sleep when they room-shared and were still sleeping less when researchers checked in at the year-and-a-half mark. Room-sharing was also associated with poorer bedtime habits, including not going down until after 8 p.m., and unsafe sleep practices, like sleeping in bed with their parents and having pillows and blankets in the bassinet or crib—all of which have been associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

“If they’re in your room, you’ll do whatever it takes to get them to sleep,” says Ian Paul, study author and professor of paediatrics and health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. This explains why parents in the study who room-shared with their babies long-term were four times more likely to turn into co-sleepers.

As if having a tired, cranky baby on your hands isn’t bad enough, the AAP and American Academy of Sleep Medicine have noted that inadequate sleep is associated with poorer cognitive, psychomotor, physical and emotional development in babies. Insufficient sleep is also a recognized risk factor for obesity, because links between sleep and weight begin in infancy. And babies who are bad sleepers also affect their parents’ health and wellbeing.

If you have a young baby, don’t be in a rush to move her out before six months, though. We know there are many benefits to keeping infants close in the early months, says Paul, including a reduced risk of SIDS and better success with breastfeeding. It’s helpful to have baby within arm’s reach during those midnight feedings and frequent wakings.

But past six months, everyone’s sleep can benefit from snoozing in separate rooms. “The AAP’s recommendation of one year didn’t take into account the effect of poor infant sleep on parent sleep, parent functioning and all that goes along with parent fatigue, such as emotional health problems, marital problems, increased rates of shaken baby syndrome and increased rates of motor vehicle accidents,” says Paul. “They didn’t take a family-centred perspective.”

The evidence around SIDS doesn’t support extended room-sharing, either. Over 90 percent of cases occur in the first six months. “And there is no data that shows a difference in SIDS rates beyond six months based on sleep location,” says Paul.

So what’s a sleep-deprived parent to do? The AAP is likely to amend it’s recommendation to reflect these new findings, but in the meantime Paul suggests having a discussion with your doctor about sleep location at the six-month checkup. “I believe the vast majority of clinicians are going to recommend not room-sharing past six months.”

Read more:
6 ways to help your baby sleep through the night
The latest on co-sleeping and SIDS

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