The latest infant sleep guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics encourage skin-to-skin contact and sharing rooms—but not beds—with infants.

The term “SIDS” is currently used to describe any infant death without an identifiable cause. As such, SIDS prevention tactics mostly consist of avoiding known risk factors, a list that’s constantly growing. The biggest shift in SIDS prevention came in 1994 when a coalition of researchers recommended that babies be placed on their backs, not their stomachs, to sleep. Public health organizations around the world instituted awareness campaigns, and the number of SIDS deaths associated with stomach sleeping declined dramatically. But as those rates declined, other risk factors grew in prominence.

The updated recommendations address these risks as well as proactive steps parents can take to boost their infants’ resilience.

The safest sleep environment, say AAP experts, is a completely bare crib or bassinet with no soft bedding, crib bumpers, blankets, pillows, or soft toys. Any fitted sheets should be tight and secure on the mattress. The room, the baby, and his or her parents will be free of smoke, drugs, and alcohol.

One of the more contentious issues in the infant sleep discussion is whether or not parents should share a bed with their babies or put them to sleep in another room. The new guidelines recommend a halfway point: putting babies down in their own cribs in their parents’ bedrooms for at least the first six months of their lives, and ideally their first year. Studies have shown that while bed-sharing can increase SIDS risk, room-sharing alone can decrease it by as much as 50 percent.

The report notes the protective power of breastfeeding and of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, and recommends that a mother hold her newborn for at least an hour as soon as she is able.

Lead author Rachel Moon says she recognizes that talking about SIDS is scary, but that doing so can save lives. "We want to share this information in a way that doesn't scare parents but helps to explain the real risks posed by an unsafe sleep environment," she said in a statement. "We know that we can keep a baby safer without spending a lot of money on home monitoring gadgets but through simple precautionary measures."

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