When we talk about infant sleep, we often focus on frequent wakings, feedings, instilling good sleep habits, and sleep training. Another important topic, though, is sleep safety. SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) rates declined dramatically after the “Back to Sleep” campaign, but infants are still at risk. They’re also at risk of accidental suffocation and strangulation related to sleeping conditions.
Scary stuff! The good news is that you can take easy steps to greatly reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS or sleep-related injuries. Here’s what experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommend for both nighttime sleep and naps:
Follow the ABCs of Safe Sleep
- Alone — Your baby needs his very own bed. Bed sharing (when baby sleeps with an adult in the adult’s bed) has many supporters, but the AAP says it’s a risk and advises against it. If you bring your baby into your bed for nighttime feedings, pop him back into his crib when he’s done. If you think you may fall asleep while feeding him, be sure there isn’t anything in your bed that could cover his face, head, or neck, or cause him to overheat (like pillows, loose sheets or blankets).
- Back — Place your little one on his back in the crib. In 1994 the “Back to Sleep Campaign” led to a dramatic decrease in SIDS deaths. This may be because back sleeping helps prevent “re-breathing” — when a baby’s face is pressed against a sleeping surface and he breathes carbon dioxide rather than fresh air. Always place your baby on his back for sleep, but if he rolls himself onto his tummy you don’t need to reposition him as long as he knows how to roll both ways (back-to-tummy and tummy-to-back).
- Crib — Your baby’s bed should be a crib, bassinet, or portable crib with a firm mattress that meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s safety standards. If he falls asleep in a car seat, stroller, or anywhere else that is not a crib, transfer him to a crib as soon as possible.
Sleep in the Same Room as Your Baby
Even though he should sleep alone in a crib, having his crib close to your bed for at least the first 6 months may decrease SIDS risk by 50%.
The Only Things in The Crib Should be a Sheet, Your Baby & Whatever He’s Wearing
Be sure the crib sheet is tight-fitted and specifically designed for the mattress. If you need to keep your baby warm, the AAP recommends a wearable blanket or swaddle (stop swaddling him when he starts trying to roll over). Other soft objects, including blankets, pillows, bumpers, and stuffed animals may cover his face or be a strangulation hazard.
Avoid Overheating Your Baby During Sleep
Overheating may be a risk factor for SIDS. Your baby releases body heat through his head, so no hats for sleep (a hat could also fall off and cover his face). Keep the room temperature comfortable for a lightly clothed adult, and dress your baby in only one layer more than you are wearing. Don’t worry if your baby’s hands feel chilly; that doesn’t mean he’s cold. A better way of gauging his temperature is to feel his back or tummy.
Keep Cords Away from Your Baby’s Crib
Electrical, window, or other cords that could fall or be pulled into your baby’s crib are a strangulation risk. Keep this in mind if you’re using white noise machines, fans, humidifiers, or other machines.
Offer a Pacifier
Putting babies to sleep with a pacifier may reduce the risk of SIDS. If the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth during sleep, you don’t have to put it back in.
Breastfeed if You Can
Breastfeeding reduces a baby’s risk of SIDS. The AAP recommends breastfeeding (including bottle-feeding expressed breastmilk) for at least 12 months, even after starting your baby on solid food.
A Note About Tummy Time
One of the reasons tummy time is so important is because babies no longer spend time on their tummies in the crib. Before “Back to Sleep” babies woke up on their tummies and had lots of opportunities to work on lifting their heads, looking around, pushing up with their arms, and learning how to roll over. Ensuring that your back-sleeping baby gets plenty of playtime on his tummy is essential to many areas of his development.
A Note About “SIDS-Preventing” Products
Some products are marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS. The AAP says, however, that there is no evidence they are affective at doing so. These products include:
- Wedges, positioners, or special mattresses.
- Beside or in-bed sleepers.
- Monitors that track breathing and heart rate and sound an alarm if breathing pauses or the heart rate slows. Research shows that pauses in breathing (apnea) are not linked to SIDS. What’s more, it’s not uncommon for newborns to have brief periods of apnea, so these monitors may cause more stress than peace of mind due to false alarms. (In rare cases a doctor may recommend an apnea monitor for a baby with certain medical conditions.)
Bedtime safety is important, but so is safety all around the house! Head over to this article for babyproofing tips.