Pediatrics group recommends keeping infants in parents' bedrooms for the first year

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Rebecca Gidjunis of Manayunk, lays her 7-week-year-old son, Gabriel, down in a bassinet next to her bed.

On second thought, painting the nursery can wait.

Infants should sleep in the same bedroom as their parents - but not in the same bed - for at least the first six months and preferably the first year, according to new recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The policy, to be issued Monday, is intended to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Room-sharing, but not bed-sharing, "can result in an almost 50 percent decrease in risk" for SIDS, said the study's coauthor, Lori Feldman-Winter, professor of pediatrics with Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

Keeping the baby in the parents' room for a full year may strike many as being excessive. Indeed, the highest risk for SIDS is among babies in the first four months of life. But sleep-related deaths do occur among older infants, so Megan Heere, medical director of Temple University Hospital's Well Baby Nursery, praised the announcement.

"These recommendations are evidence-based and should guide parents and other caregivers in the best way to keep babies safe," said Heere, a leader in Temple's SAFE-T Program that provides families with "baby boxes" as safe sleeping spaces.

The academy's recommendations repeat more familiar warnings about putting soft bedding in cribs that can pose a suffocation hazard. Letting babies sleep on sofas or cushioned chairs also is dangerous.

Though baby monitors, cushioned wedges and other products are marketed to protect children from SIDS, the academy advises against using them, saying nothing beats a parent's direct attention.

Jada Jackson, a forester and first-time mother from Willingboro, says she is happy to keep her 7-month-old daughter, Judiana, tucked into her own crib - near her bed.

"I can look over and see she's OK," Jackson said.

Other parents might raise an eyebrow at a full year of baby in the master bedroom.

"Six months, I can sort of see," said Heather Herrington, a lawyer from Haddonfield, who has two boys, ages 6 months and 3 years. "One year seems like a long time."

Jackie Block of East Norriton has been enjoying having her and her husband Asher's newborn, Stassia, in their room, but she, too, thought a year might be pushing it. Perhaps the start of a too-cozy habit?

"I don't want a 10-year-old in my room," she said.

Joseph Gidjunis, owner of JPG Photography, is a first-time father of a 7-week-old son. "The length of time is interesting," he said of the recommendation. "We hadn't thought about keeping him in our room for a year."

Gidjunis and his wife, Rebecca, a college professor, have Gabriel sleeping in a bassinet in their Manayunk bedroom.

Like most new parents, they are taking things as they come.

"We've still got to get to 6 months," Gidjunis said. "One week at a time.

Here are other highlights in Monday's pediatric academy recommendations:

As soon after birth as possible, initiate skin-to-skin contact between baby and mother to facilitate breast-feeding - which is linked to lower rates of SIDS, among many benefits.

At home, use firm sleep surfaces such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib with a fitted sheet. To keep baby warm, use a onesie or "sleep sack" to avoid having loose, soft bedding that could suffocate the child. Same for stuffed animals: Don't put them in the bed.

Always put babies to sleep on their backs, not on their sides or stomachs.

Use pacifiers at nap or bedtime, as sucking on a pacifier is linked with preventing SIDS.

Never expose babies to smoke, alcohol or illicit drugs, all practices linked to SIDS.

rgiordano@phillynews.com

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