One of the aspects of living in the New York area can mean limited space for many families. Between negotiating who gets what part of the one-bedroom and figuring out how you’re going to squeeze yet another toy in your apartment, living in close quarters can be a struggle. This limited space, especially common for Manhattan families, often causes parents and their babies to share a room. However, even for families in suburbs or those with more spacious living situations, many families feel more comfortable sharing a sleeping space with their infant. Luckily, sharing a room with your newborn can actually have many benefits, and it's recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for at least the first three months, if not the first year, of your little ones life in order to reduce the risk of sleep-related death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Keeping your baby within arm’s reach of your bed can actually lower the risk of SIDS by up to 50 percent, According to the AAP. Here’s what you need to know when preparing to room share with the newest member of your family.
What is SIDS?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “the sudden and unexpected death of a baby less than 1 year old in which the cause was not obvious before investigation.” Most cases of SIDS occur during sleep or in the child’s sleep area, according to the CDC, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to keep your baby close at nighttime or during naps.
So how does room sharing help prevent SIDS? This could be because it allows parents to respond to their infant’s needs in a timelier fashion, according to Leslie Solomonian, B.S., a doctor of naturopathic medicine with an emphasis on pediatric care and professor at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. Newborns are still learning how to regulate their autonomic functions—the ability to normalize their body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, sleep cycles, and more—and quick responsiveness can help prevent issues related to the autonomic functions that could be potential causes for SIDS, Solomonian says.
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How to Room Share Properly
As previously mentioned, when sharing a room with an infant it’s important to keep your child within arm’s reach, ideally in a basinet or crib next to your bed. Your newborn’s sleep space should follow basic safety guidelines, including ensuring her sleep space is devoid of all soft or fluffy materials such as blankets or stuffed animals, her mattress is firm, and she’s dressed lightly for sleep, according to the AAP, in order to avoid suffocation or overheating.
Additionally, babies should not share a room with parents who are smokers, says Leigh Anne O’Connor, media liaison for Le Leche League of New York, lactation consultation, and mother of three. “If you have one cigarette, it takes twenty-four hours for you to not be exhaling the carcinogens,” O’Connor says. These chemicals are especially dangerous for babies and should be strictly avoided.
It’s important to note that the AAP recommendation is not co-sleeping. “There’s tons of evidence on the benefits of room sharing and sometimes it’s extrapolated to co-sleeping or bed sharing,” Solomonian says. “And that’s a little bit controversial because if a parent is co-sleeping with a child or bed sharing, there’s a risk that they could roll over on the child or they could suffocate the infant.” Additionally, most parents sleep with pillows, blankets, and/or soft mattresses that make the parents’ bed an unsafe sleep surface for babies.
Other Benefits of Room Sharing
Aside from the safety benefits of room sharing, there are myriad emotional and social benefits of being physically close with your newborn. “It allows breast-feeding to be more effective,” Solomonian says. “So, when baby’s in another room and mom doesn’t hear the baby fussing, there’s a bit of a delay in terms of responding to the baby’s needs to nurse.” By being able to feed the infant sooner, parents can teach their child his needs can be met in a timely fashion without needing to scream at the top of his lungs or wail for prolonged periods of time. This can help minimize fussiness and excessive crying.
Aside from breast-feeding benefits, room sharing also helps with “reducing stress because parents are probably getting more sleep, they’re more connected to their babies, and that promotes a lot of those healthy neurotransmitters and hormones in the body as opposed to the stress hormones,” according to Solomonian. In other words, being with your baby can help make you feel closer.
Drawbacks of Room Sharing
Room sharing may seem like the perfect sleeping arrangement, but, realistically, caring for a newborn will force you to adjust certain aspects of your life, and room sharing is no different. Your baby will have different sleeping patterns and bedtime needs than you or your partner. Most newborns sleep between 16 and 17 hours a day, but usually only in 1- to 2-hour increments, according to the AAP. This inevitably makes for an irregular sleeping schedule for parents.
This difference in sleep patterns can result in displacement of popular pre-bedtime activities for parents like reading or watching TV in bed. The light and sound produced can keep the baby awake and disrupt her sleeping pattern, O’Connor says. However, this doesn’t mean your nighttime hobbies are gone for good. “If the parents want to do something that involves lights and noise, they can go somewhere else,” O’Connor says.
For couples who are worried that sharing a room with their baby will impact their relationship in terms of physical intimacy, O’Connor recommends going to another room or dropping your little one off with a babysitter for an evening. Additionally, it’s important to remember that part of parental intimacy is “being kind to each other throughout the day, and offering help, and not being stressed,” Solomonian says. “Intimacy happens in all sorts of ways besides sex.”
Ultimately, there are a lot of ways in which families can manage their bedtime routines and sleeping arrangements, whether that’s moving the baby into the parents’ room or vice versa. “There’s not one way to do it and there’s not one way that must be done (besides being safe),” O’Connor says. “Each family has to do what works best for them.”