Conclusion "Babies moved into their own room at six months sleep better and are lower risk of obesity, poor sleep patterns and tantrums," reports The Sun. This is based on a US study looking at room-sharing of mother-infant pairs and infant sleep patterns.
However, despite the headlines, the study did not look at babies' ongoing sleep patterns or the risk of obesity. The study found that infants who slept independently not in the same room as their mother by 4 months or after months did sleep for longer in both the short and longer-term.
At 9 months "independent sleepers" slept around 40 minutes per night longer than "room-sharers". Worryingly, researchers also found an association between room-sharing and unsafe sleep practices that have been linked with sudden infant death syndrome SIDS , such as use of blankets and pillows, or parents bringing the baby into bed with them. But no cases of SIDS were reported. The results would appear to contradict recent US guidelines, which recommend room-sharing for the first year.
This differs from NHS guidance, which recommends keeping your baby in a separate cot in your room for just the first six months. Where did the story come from?
The quality of the UK media's reporting of the study was patchy in places. As mentioned, The Sun inaccurately implied that the researchers looked at obesity risk.
While other research has found an association between poor sleep and obesity in later life, this was not investigated in this study.
What kind of research was this? They also wanted to look for links between independent sleeping and risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome SIDS. Secondary data analysis is a useful way of carrying out a study using data that already exists. However, because the study has already been carried out, researchers are only able to analyse and draw conclusions from the limited data they have.
What did the research involve? Infants were first-borns and of a healthy weight. Mothers were English speaking and over 20 years of age. Parents who reported bed-sharing with their infant were excluded. Research nurses visited homes when infants were 3 to 4 weeks old and then again at 4, 6 and 9 months. The Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire was used to assess sleep at 4 and 9 months of age, with a shorter version used at 12 and 30 months. This survey assesses infant sleep location, activities before bedtime, and sleep patterns.
Sleep duration is split into night time 7pm-7am and daytime 7am-7pm. At 4 and 9 months, other questions regarding sleep were asked, including night waking, night feedings and duration, infant sleep behaviours and environment and parenting responses to night waking. They also assessed maternal age, pre-pregnancy weight, pregnancy weight gain, whether the infant was born at term, and the infant's body measurements.
What were the basic results? The results showed that of the infants: Independent sleepers also had fewer night feedings 1. Early independent sleepers also slept for longer stretches at a time than late independent sleepers or room sharers.
At 4 months, room-sharing infants had higher odds of having unapproved objects on their sleep surface, such as a blanket, pillow, or positioner adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 2.
At both 4 and 9 months, room-sharing parents had 4 times higher odds of bringing their infant into their bed overnight aOR 4. How did the researchers interpret the results? The researchers concluded that "room-sharing at ages 4 and 9 months is associated with less night-time sleep in both the short and long-term, reduced sleep consolidation, and unsafe sleep practices previously associated with sleep-related death.
It also showed a link between room-sharing and unsafe practices such as leaving objects such as blankets in the cot.
However, the results of this study need to be treated cautiously as there are some limitations to the research: The findings do not prove that putting babies in their own room helps them sleep for longer. It might be that some parents of infants who were not sleeping very well anyway decided to keep their baby in the room with them. The data collected was self-reported by the parents. There might be inaccuracies in their memory of how long their infant slept, which could have biased results.
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The sample was relatively small to draw certain comparative results. It also included mostly white mothers with a relatively high income who were married or living with a partner and all had at least two bedrooms. This might mean that the results are less generalisable to other demographics. The study was also carried out in the US and therefore might not be as relevant to a UK setting.
Other factors such as who the main caregiver is and how many caregivers are involved in bedtime practices were not taken into account and may have biased the findings.
The researchers discuss past studies that have linked infant sleeping practices with risk of sudden infant death syndrome SIDS. However this study reported no cases of SIDS. Even if there had been, the findings would not have shown that room sharing increases 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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