New European research has found that babies who sleep in their parents' bedroom for the first six months of life have no increased risk of sleeping problems or behavioural problems later in childhood. In fact, sleeping in the parent's room may actually have a positive effect.
The longitudinal study is the first to investigate the long‐term association between babies sleeping in the parent's bedroom and three areas of child behaviour: sleep, behaviour problems, and pro-social behaviour.
The study was published in the journal Child Development last week. It was led by developmental psychologist Roseriet Beijers of Radboud University in the Netherlands, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Maryland.
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Current recommendations in the Netherlands and many other Western countries (including Canada) encourage parents to let their baby sleep in the parent's bedroom for the first six months of life, which helps reduce the the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by almost 50 per cent.
However, many parents choose to let their baby sleep alone in his or her own bedroom, with some believing that room-sharing encourages a baby's dependency on their parents, which some think can led to developmental problems later in life, such as sleep and behavioural problems.
To investigate further, the team looked at 193 babies and their parents, who were asked to keep a daily sleeping diary for the first six months of their baby's life. The children were then followed until they were age six to eight years of age, with mothers and teachers asked to report on the behaviour of the children.
The researchers also observed the children taking part in behavioural tasks to assess sleeping problems such as bedtime struggles, increased night wakings or if they experience anxiety or aggression.
Room-sharing was linked to improved sleep quality
The findings showed that room-sharing with parents early in life was not related to sleep problems or behaviour problems at age six to eight. In fact, the results suggested that more weeks of room sharing were actually related to positive outcomes in children, including improved sleep quality and improved social behaviour.
"Although there are speculations that room-sharing early in life leads to sleep and behavioural problems, our study does not reveal any negative effects of room-sharing in the first six months of life on child development," Beijers said.
"However, before we can draw more definitive conclusions about positive and negative effects of room-sharing on child development, this important issue must be investigated in greater depth."
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