Sharing sleep safely: What you need to know

Interestingly, infants and older babies fall asleep more easily in the context of family noise, rather than in silence, as is generally thought. This is because the baby probably feels more secure hearing a caregiver -- or perhaps knowing that something is going on nearby. It is always possible that a loud TV or an active herd of siblings could make it impossible for the baby to sleep, but generally it is hard to keep a baby awake if she is sleepy. You can be the judge of how intrusive the noise level might be.

Some parents may choose to put their baby in a separate room with the door closed, where sensory access between the baby and other family members is not likely. My preference is never to close the door to a baby's room, since babies find sleep when they need it, and they were not designed biologically or psychologically to sleep in complete social isolation.

Some parents find it comforting to put some kind of baby monitor in the room, which is fine, except that a more appropriate use would be to turn the amplifiers around and pump family noise into the baby's room, letting the baby monitor the parents and siblings, rather than the other way around. At least 50 years of human developmental research show that babies respond positively to physical and psychological sensory signals (sounds, sights, smells, touch, movement) from others so they feel that they are not alone. We might presume that this "social noise" gives young children a sense of security -- or something akin to a baby thinking, "It's nice to know someone is around, should I need them."

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