(CNN) - For at least the first six months of their lives, infants should be sleeping in the same room as their parents, but not the same bed, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
These 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 and simply that certain infants may just be more vulnerable due to genetics or physical traits.
The AAP report, launched during the the AAP national conference in San Francisco this week, states that evidence shows parents sharing a room with their infant can reduce the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.
"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 Winter, adding that mothers being near their babies also facilitates breastfeeding, which in itself has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS by 70%. "Breastfeeding protects against many adverse outcomes," she said.
How common is SIDS?
There are an estimated 3,500 deaths from SIDS and other sleep-related deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-four percent of these are caused by sudden infant death, with 25% accidental strangulation or suffocation and the rest unknown.
"Babies should share that sleep environment for up to one year, because there is a slight risk of SIDS that persists," said Winter.
Increased awareness of SIDS due to safe sleep campaigns in the 1990s led to a decline in their number that decade, but rates have since plateaued. The new recommendations hope to enable this initial decrease to start up again.
"There is an emphasis on room sharing, not bed sharing and the rationale is that data suggests a protective effect against SIDS when the baby is sleeping in the parents' room," said Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin-based pediatrician and author of the Baby411 book series, who was not involved with the report. "I would agree that this is sound advice."
The reasons behind the protective effect are not fully understood.
"People don't know quite why the risk is lowered," said Brown. "I might chalk it up to a parent's sixth sense when a baby is nearby and making erratic noises or not that helps save these babies."
Who will do it?
But Shu stresses the need for parents to understand the importance of a separate sleeping surface. "An adult bed is not designed for infants," she said, highlighting the dangers associated with big duvets, pillows and sheets. "If you're going to share a bed, make sure your bed is like a crib."
Beyond the bedroom
The new report further highlights a range of sleeping practices and behaviors that could help protect an infant from SIDS. These include placing babies to sleep on their backs and placing them on a firm sleeping surface with a tight-fitting sheet, while avoiding the use of soft bedding inside a crib, such as pillows and blankets.
"We know that these surfaces are extremely hazardous," added Dr. Rachel Moon, who also co-authored of the report.
Also noted is how breastfeeding can reduce risk of SIDS by 70%, but with the caveat that parents should be careful not to fall asleep when feeding their baby on an armchair.
"It's sometimes hard not to fall asleep when you're feeding a baby ... parents are tired," said Shu who admitted having fallen asleep when feeding her son when he was young. "We were lucky because he fell between me and my husband and not on the floor."
"The most hazardous environment is an armchair," said Winter. "So we recommend feeding in bed then placing a baby on a separate sleep surface."
Winter acknowledges there are many recommendations, but believes they can be followed fairly easily. With communication, both authors hope to ease the anxiety of bringing a newborn into your home.
"We know that parents may be overwhelmed with a new baby in the home," Moon said. "We want to provide them with clear and simple guidance on how and where to put their infant to sleep."
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