Moving a baby into their own room
By Angela Wilson
Certified child sleep consultant, MA Natural Sciences Cambridge University and co-founder of Baby Smiles Club
It’s pretty well known that it’s best for babies to be sleeping in the same room as you (in their own cot) when they’re first born. Doing so reduces the risk of SIDS and makes tending to your baby and feeding them easier. But for how long it is best to room-share with your baby? And when is a good time for them to move out?
This is a hotly debated topic. Our take is that it’s best for a baby to room-share for at least their first 6 months, and ideally 12 months. After that, it’s up to you! It depends on what you think will best help the sleep of everyone involved, and what you feel most comfortable with. Let’s explain…..
Room-sharing for the first 6 months
It’s best for a baby to sleep in their own cot in your room until they’re at least 6 months old. It’s been shown that doing so decreases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Having your baby close to you also means it’s easier to quickly respond to their needs and give them comfort.
It’s best for the cot to be close to your bed so that you can keep an eye on your baby and easily comfort them when needed. The cot should be out of direct sunlight, and away from any radiators or other heat source, windows and any objects that a baby could grab or try to use to climb out of the cot.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that “there is evidence that sleeping in the parents’ room but on a separate surface decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%” and that “the first 6 months are particularly critical, because the rates of SIDS and other sleep-related deaths, particularly those occurring in bed-sharing situations, are highest in the first 6 months”.
Meanwhile the NHS in the UK recommends that one of the ways to reduce the risk of SIDS is to “place your baby on their back to sleep, in a cot in the same room as you, for the first 6 months”. And health authorities in many other parts of the world (like Canada and New Zealand) say the same.
Room-sharing from 6-12 months
So it’s clear that room-sharing is best for at least up to 6 months. What about after that? It’s less clear cut, but the ideal seems to be for a baby to continue room-sharing until they’re 12 months old.
What’s this based on and why aren’t things clear cut?
The starting point
The starting point is that the AAP says that “it is recommended that infants sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, ideally for the first year of life, but at least for the first 6 months”.
Meanwhile Red Nose Australia (a charity who provide information and advice for safe sleeping and healthy pregnancy) recommends “sleeping with a baby in a cot next to the parents’ bed for the first six to twelve months of life”.
A study on room-sharing and sleep outcomes
Now, there was some research published in 2017 (in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) that considered the AAP’s recommendation to room-share until ideally one year old, and the association between room-sharing and sleep outcomes. It found that room-sharing (rather than a baby sleeping in their own room) both at 4 and 9 months old was associated with less nighttime sleep, reduced sleep consolidation and unsafe sleep practices.
The study compared the overnight sleep of ‘early independent sleepers’ (babies sleeping in their own room before 4 months old), ‘later independent sleepers’ (babies sleeping in their own room from 4 to 9 months old), and babies who were room-sharing at 9 months old. It found that at 9 months old: 1) early independent sleepers slept 40 minutes more nightly than room-sharers and 26 minutes more than later independent sleepers; and 2) the longest stretch of sleep for early independent sleepers was 1h 40 minutes longer than room-sharers and 45 minutes longer than later independent sleepers.
The study also found that a baby who was room-sharing was 4 times more likely to be taken into their parents bed at both 4 and 9 months old. Bed-sharing is not the safest way to sleep.
On the surface, the study might lead a parent to think that it’s best for a baby to be in their own room after 6 months as they’ll sleep better. However it isn’t as straightforward as this.
- Firstly, there were significant differences in the bedtime routines, bedtime and how the babies were put to bed in this study. At 4 months, the babies who were sleeping in their own room were more likely to have a consistent bedtime routine and an early bedtime compared to the babies who were room-sharing. At 9 months, the babies who were sleeping in their own room were more likely to have an early bedtime than the babies room-sharing and were more likely to be put to sleep drowsy but awake.
Having good bedtime routines and an early bedtime are key for good baby sleep. And putting a baby to bed drowsy but still awake is a key ingredient for self-settling – which plays a big role in getting good consolidated nighttime sleep.
Therefore it could have been that the babies sleeping in their own room at 9 months weren’t sleeping longer just by virtue of being in their own room, but because they had better bedtime routines, an early bedtime and were better able to self-settle.
- Secondly, if a longer stretch of consolidated sleep can be obtained purely by virtue of a baby sleeping in their own room, this longer stretch of sleep might not necessarily be a good thing. A counter paper to the research paper referred to above was published in the same journal at the same time, making the point that the ability for a baby to arouse from sleep was “critical physiologically”, and failure to arouse could make a baby vulnerable to SIDS. So a longer sleep duration “may be problematic from a physiological perspective”.
- Thirdly, room-sharing can be good for the parent-baby bond, as it helps a parent to readily respond to a baby when they wake in the night. Studies show that where a baby has a strong bond with their parents, they’ll sleep better. And helping a baby to sleep well can strengthen the bond. It’s a reciprocal relationship! So actually a baby who is room-sharing might actually sleep better.
What’s our take?
There can be all sorts of reasons why a parent might think about moving a baby into their own room after 6 months. It could be because parents find it easier to have intimacy with their little one no longer sleeping in their room. It could be because they're prone to bringing their baby into bed with them in a bid to get them back to sleep, and end up co-sleeping (which isn’t the safest way to sleep) – and they think that having their baby in a separate room will stop them doing this.
But where a parent is thinking about moving their baby into their own room purely because you hope it will help them (and you) sleep better, our take is that it’s preferable to help them get their best night’s sleep by using principles of good sleep instead. Things like good bedtime routines, having an early bedtime, good daytime naps and having a strong bond with your baby play a critical role in getting good nighttime sleep. And where a baby is room-sharing without co-sleeping, this is the safest way to sleep. Which is why we conclude that the ideal is to room-share for 12 months.
After 12 months
After 12 months, it really depends on you and your baby as to when you think it’s best for them to move to their own room. And there are cultural differences as to what’s considered ‘normal’.
- You might like the idea of staying close to your baby during the night, so you can respond to them quickly if anything’s up, or because you think it’s good for the parent-child bond – in which case you might want to keep them in your room.
- Your baby might be sleeping a solid 12 hours at night, and only wake when something is wrong (like not feeling well, or being too hot). In which case, you might think that you’d have to get up anyway to help or comfort them, so they may as well be in your room.
- You might want your bedroom back to yourself – so you don’t need to sneak in when you go to bed, or creep across the floor if you need the bathroom in the middle of the night.
- You might find your baby finds it harder to settle back to sleep with you there. They might want to engage with you, making it harder for them to go back to sleep. So you think having their own room would be best.
There's no 'right' answer – and it really depends on you and your family.
Our Baby Sleep Program can help your baby get their best night’s sleep, with an 11-12 hour solid stretch of sleep typically from 6–8 months old, and an 8 hour solid stretch from around 3 months old. Our program is based on the most up-to-date science about how babies sleep, and designed to foster and strengthen the parent-baby bond.