Parents and grandparents trying to keep new babies safe during sleep should heed an important new warning from the American Academy of Pediatrics: Babies should sleep in their parents’ room–but not in the same bed–for at least the first six months of life in order to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
In fact, the report notes that parents sharing a room with their infant for up to the first full year of life can reduce the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.
Other smart sleep strategies? Babies should be placed on separate surfaces within the same room, such as a crib or bassinet with a firm mattress, and never on a soft surface, armchair, or couch. Parents should also avoid using soft bedding, toys, or crib bumpers that could cause suffocation.
Though experts don’t know exactly what causes sleep-related deaths in infants, theories include that a baby’s brain may not be developed enough to regulate respiration combined with an environment—such as soft furnishings–that aid asphyxia or nasal obstruction, according to CNN.com. Certain infants may also just be more vulnerable due to genetics or physical traits.
“A baby that is within reach of their mother may have more comfort, or physical stimulation form being in an environment with another person,” said Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a co-author of the report. She added that mothers being near their babies also facilitates breastfeeding, which in itself has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS by 70%.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3,500 babies die from SIDS in the United States each year–and 90% of SIDS cases happen before a baby is 6 months old.