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Babies sleeping in separate rooms

by on 2017/09/07

For parents of newborns grappling with limited sleep, a headline such as ‘babies who sleep in separate rooms from their parents…..get more shut eye’ is bound to raise an eyebrow. The latest findings, at first glance, seem to challenge official guidelines that babies should sleep in the same room as their parents until at least 6 months. Indeed the reporting specifically claims the findings challenge the guidelines. On closer inspection though, the headline and the article is riddled with misinterpretations of the study findings. So what does the study actually reveal?

The study itself

The study was a survey of over 6,236 U.S. parents and 3,798 from an international sample (Australia, NZ, U.K., Brazil, Canada) who had a child aged between 6 and 12 months.  All were users of an app designed to address babies’ sleep. Parents of babies who slept in a different room reported that their infant went to sleep earlier, they fell asleep quicker, and spent more time sleeping at night and across a 24 hour period than babies who slept in their parents bedroom.

Media reporting of the study

There are a number of difficulties in the reporting of this study findings. Some of the statements such as the findings ”contradicts guidelines for babies and parents to sleep together for at least 6 months’ are completely inconsistent with what the study researched. The study did not look at newborns but rather infants who were between 6 and 12 months meaning that the findings cannot be interpreted in relation to the newborn period.

The reporting refers to the researchers as interpreting the findings as suggesting that babies who sleep separately learn to ‘self-soothe’. That opinion may have merit but the design of the study cannot lend itself to identify the causes of the better sleeping. It may very well be that parents of babies who were sleeping for longer periods anyway chose to put them in their own room on that very basis. The design of the study does not allow us to pick apart the causes underlying better sleeping in the babies who sleep in a different room.

Very little is said about the broader context of babies sleeping such as feeding practices. The reporting suggests that babies in separate rooms ‘were less likely to require feeding at night’. This may mean more of the babies who slept separately were being formula fed but almost nothing is mentioned about feeding practices or to note that there may be other differences between the groups that explain or contribute to the findings.

The bottom line

Parents have to make decisions based on a range of factors as to what sleeping practices they wish to follow at various ages of their child. This study doesn’t provide any specific guidance to assist in that decision making. The reporting is inaccurate in the direct claims and suggestions it makes of the findings. The N.H.S. provide very sound advice on the topic of infant sleeping.

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