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When should babies sleep on their own?

Sleep times and sleep habits seem to be one of the more problematic parts of parenting, particularly in the first months of the infant’s life and in the case of a first-born child. Where should you let your new baby sleep? For how long? Should you let it him or her sleep in the same room? Or should you rather leave your baby in a separate room?

Mother placing baby in cot

Despite the presence of studies exploring such aspect of parenting, there still seems to be little agreement and understanding of ideal parental practices about what is best and what is not recommended when dealing with the first months of a new-born’s sleeping habits.

UK NHS guidance recommends keeping your baby in a separate cot in your room for just the first six months, while other advice suggests parent-infant room sharing until the first year of age. A small scale study from the US tends to support the advice of a shorter period of room-sharing.

Dr Paul and his team analysed sleep patterns of babies spending the nights either independently or in their parents’ room at 4 and 9 months of age. Their results suggest that at the ages of 4 and 9 months babies sleeping in a separate room slept uninterruptedly for longer, with fewer night feedings and with greater sleep consolidation. The researchers also found that room-sharing seemed to be associated with sleep habits that have been related to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), such as the use of pillows or positioners. Although the study did not include any reported cases of SIDS. (See below for NHS advice regarding SIDS.)

As with all studies, these research outcomes should be viewed with caution. An association between sleep location and sleep habits does not prove that the one affects the other. There could have been some other, common factor that was not reported. The study was also based upon a small research sample. However, this research does add weight to the NHS advice.

It is important to respond to the individual needs of your own child, however, in general we believe that the current NHS advice is sound. Our clinic would be happy to give you more specific advice.

You can read the NHS Choices article about this research here.

SIDS

NHS Choices quotes the following UK advice on reducing the risk of SIDS:

  • Place your baby on their back to sleep, in a cot in the same room as you for the first six months. 
  • Don't smoke during pregnancy or breastfeeding and don't let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby. 
  • Don't share a bed with your baby if you've been drinking alcohol, if you take drugs or you're a smoker. 
  • Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair. 
  • Don't let your baby get too hot or cold. 
  • Keep your baby's head uncovered. 
  • Their blanket should be tucked in no higher than their shoulders. 
  • Place your baby in the "feet to foot" position (with their feet at the end of the cot or Moses basket)

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Welcome to ourAdvice, where we share our views on topics of interest to parents.
We are keen to know your views and so please do comment on our articles.
Is there a topic that you would like us to write about? Just send us a message via 'Contact us'.

ourNews, our other blog, has more general posts, including reviews of recent research.

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