Knowing how to provide safe sleep for your baby can be difficult in today’s world. In the United States, more than 3,500 babies die every year from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome1. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and the cause is still a bit of a mystery.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I was obsessed with researching ways to provide the safest environment for my child. Although SIDS cannot be avoided entirely, there are a lot of things you can do to help minimize the risk.
Sleep practices can be a volatile topic, as you have mothers who are adamant that the only reason their baby survived was that the baby slept in a pillowcase on the bed with mom, dad, three dogs, and six cats. While I do not dispute the apparent living breathing child they have, it is merely a fact that this is not the safest way for your baby to sleep.
Some parents feel that the benefits of having their child next to them outweigh the risks.
You are not a bad parent if you choose to do this, because all situations are unique. We do the best that we can for our family, and sometimes it’s not textbook.
I am going to present you with the sciencey information regarding safe sleep, and you can do with it what you will. Most of these recommendations were given by the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) in 2016.
Keep in mind: this is a massive group of brilliant people who have dedicated their lives to specialize in your child’s health. It is worth at least considering.
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SAFE SLEEP ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUR BABY
Share a room with your baby, not a bed.
The AAP recommends that baby stay in the same room as parents for at least six months–and ideally a year.1 There is scientific data that supports keeping baby in your room for the first six months. No data supports the remaining half of the year, it is merely an “expert opinion.”
You probably want to sleep with your baby; I get that. Keeping them in your room, not your bed, allows you to be close while staying safe.
Babies are incredibly inconsistent with their sleep for the first few months, and I promise that your rest will be equally inconsistent. I am not sure my children would have survived the first year if they were down the hallway instead of next to our bed, as I was in a haze that entire first year.
Here is where it gets a little confusing.
Studies have now shown that children who sleep in their own rooms from the age of four months sleep longer at night, and they also get on a stable sleep schedule sooner. If your baby is sleeping longer, that likely means you are sleeping longer as well. You will be able to go through your day with a clearer head–which is better for everyone involved.
So what is a parent to do?
It’s tough, but this is where you need to examine what is better for your family. Personally, I would recommend keeping baby in the same room with you for the first six months if you can, as the data shows this can reduce the risk of SIDS. But if baby can’t sleep through your significant other’s bear snoring, and this is causing sleep deprivation throughout your household, by all means, do something different.
My partner snores. Loudly.
I was not ready for our second child to sleep in her room at four months, as our room is down the hall from her room.
We purchased a white noise machine, and it definitely helps drown out the thundering noises coming from my sweet husband. This is the white noise machine we used, as it was cheap and effective. It gives us a multitude of different settings, and I like options.
Related: Newborn Sleep Tips and Tricks
BACK IS BEST
I know, your mother and your grandmother did it differently. Yes, their children survived.
Regardless, babies placed on their stomachs to sleep are 2 to 13 times more likely to die from SIDS.2 The studies suggest that we see this increase in SIDS-related deaths for a few reasons.
- First, it increases the likelihood that baby will re-breathe their breath. Think of the lady on the plane hyperventilating into a paper bag. It’s the same concept, except your baby can’t take the paper bag away from their mouth.
- Second, it could cause an upper airway obstruction.
- Third, it could lead to overheating.
Back sleeping is one of the simplest ways you can DRASTICALLY reduce the risk of SIDS, so it was a no-brainer for us.
Some babies prefer to sleep on their stomachs–mine sure did. Babies who sleep on their stomachs are less reactive to noise and have more extended periods of deep sleep. These would be great things for you and me–not so much for a baby. The less aware your baby is, the less likely they will be able to wake themselves up if they put themselves in a compromising situation.
The recommendation is to put your baby down on their back for the first year. I did this, and four months later my child had rolled onto her side, and eventually onto her stomach.
This is okay. As long as baby can roll themselves over to their stomach, they can roll themselves back. Your role is to start them off on their back at the beginning of the night.
Related: Newborn Hacks
SLEEP SURFACE SHOULD BE FLAT, FIRM, AND BARE
Your little wiggle worm is twisting and turning their head constantly, trying to explore the world around them. This can cause some problems for a couple of different reasons if your child is not on a flat, firm, and bare surface.
- FIRM: If you put your baby on a vast squishy mattress, they may sink down and the mattress will bunch around them.
- FLAT: If your baby is not flat, there is a possibility their head could loll or their chest hunch, resulting in restriction of the airway.
- BARE: Young babies have died from pulling their blankets up over their heads and suffocating, or from getting their face stuck in the side of a stuffed animal.
If you are worried about your little one getting cold at night, consider purchasing a wearable blanket. These are similar to snuggies for adults, except they do a better job of staying secure and come in ridiculously cute designs. I grew obsessed with wearable blankets for our second child, and we ended up with nine or ten.
Although breastfeeding doesn’t have a whole lot to do with sleep, it does decrease the risk of SIDS. Although the reason isn’t well understood, the theory is that it reduces the risk of SIDS because breastfed babies wake more often at night to eat, and are typically less likely to become sick.
Related: Breastfeeding Hacks
Unfortunately, not all moms can breastfeed. Not all moms want to breastfeed. It is undoubtedly more important to make sure that baby is fed, regardless of how it happens. It’s useless to beat yourself up if you are not able to breastfeed, and I guarantee your energy is better spent on something else.
Personally, I wanted to breastfeed my kids for two years. It didn’t happen. Once I returned to work, I dried up within a month.
Related: Increasing Breastmilk Supply
USE A PACIFIER
There have been numerous studies done that show us that pacifier use decreases the risk of SIDS exponentially4. The use of pacifiers in newborns can be a heated subject, as most lactation consultants believe that a pacifier should be avoided until breastfeeding has been well established.
When the topic was broached at the hospital after my daughter was born, our doctor and lactation consultant were like enemies on the battlefield. It wasn’t pretty.
We ended up using pacifiers with our kids pretty quickly after they were born, and we never had any issues. Make the choice that feels right.
I can’t talk about baby sleep without addressing the controversial topic of cosleeping. There is not only controversy but a lot of contradiction. It’s a topic almost as heated as abortion or gun control–understandably, as it concerns human lives.
The reason I chose to go with the AAP’s recommendation is that they seem to be the resource that is most up-to-date in their research, and they can conduct the most legitimate research studies. I am a science girl.
I encourage you to explore the different opinions out there but question the research and information being presented. There are many disreputable sources on both sides of the argument.
With co-sleeping, you risk your baby suffocating on your soft mattress or smashing your child under your weight. When you are in a deep sleep, you lose consciousness.
In a recent study of mothers who bedshared, 13 percent of mothers admitted that they or their partners rolled on top of their baby at some point.5 I thought it may not have ended in the baby’s death–it indeed could have.
Regardless of how careful you are when you are awake, you are not going to be in control of your movements when you are sleeping. Also, it is unlikely that you will sleep as soundly because you will be continually trying to be aware of you and your baby’s movements.
No sleep is not good for you or your baby.
I won’t say I never bedshared with my baby because it happened a few times. We ended up following the safe sleep recommendations because I trust the advice from the hundreds of renowned pediatricians, and it was what was best for my situation.
Although cosleeping may not be the “textbook safe” option, some people decide it is what is best for their family. If you choose this for your family, here are some pointers to do it as safely as possible.
THE BIG FIVE
These five different factors were the leading causes of SIDS when parents chose to cosleep with their baby.’
We all know that when we consume alcohol, our senses are significantly inhibited. Although you may feel fine when you go to bed, alcohol that remains in your bloodstream may cause you to sleep more deeply, increasing the risk of rolling on your baby.
Even if you don’t smoke around your baby, you will expose your baby to third-hand smoke from your clothing and hair. It is accepted that third-hand smoke interferes with chemicals in the brain responsible for respiration.
We already know that babies who sleep on their stomachs are at an increased risk of SIDS, and the same applies when you are bedsharing. They are at an even greater risk because your bed will not be firm and flat.
-Sofa or waterbed
Sofas and waterbeds have a greater depth than a sleep space should, which increases the risk of suffocation. On a couch, your baby cannot lay down flat, and could potentially asphyxiate on the armrests or back of the sofa.
-Sleeping with a non-caregiver
Often when a new baby is sleeping with a non-caregiver, this commonly refers to other children. You may stay up all night aware of your movements, but it is unlikely your small child will do the same. The main caregiving adults should be the only other people on the bed with the baby.
Cosleeper beds usually look like a three-sided bassinet or crib with the fourth side removed and attached to your bed. These contraptions are somewhat new. The AAP does not endorse the use of these because of their lack of research. There may not be a lot of data, but this product feels like a fair compromise.
Safe Sleep Tips
- Consider a sleep consultant if you are struggling with getting your baby to sleep. Jilly has over 10 years of experience in helping new parents that are struggling with getting their little ones to sleep well. 21 Days to Peace and Quiet is a gentle sleep program that she offers that will help get your baby on a healthy sleeping schedule.
- Use a swaddle. These mimic the feeling of being in the womb, so most babies like them. These are safe to use until your baby can roll. Some doctors recommend discontinuing use after eight weeks since some babies start rolling at this point. Our Swaddle was one of my very favorite products we bought for our children. You can learn more about my favorite swaddle here.
- Don’t let your little one overheat. Babies cannot regulate their temperatures, and overheating is a risk factor for SIDS. You can click here to download a printable clothing layering guide that helps you establish safe pajama rituals based on your room temperature.
- If you decide to buy a used crib, make sure it is not a drop-sided crib. Drop-sided cribs are incredibly unsafe and have been recalled.3
- Understand that a product that says it is “breathable” does not mean your baby won’t suffocate if their face gets caught in it. I encourage you to take one of these items and try to breathe through it for a prolonged amount of time. You will find it is a struggle–imagine how difficult it would be for your baby.
- Anything advertised as a sleeper, rocker, or napper is not safe for your baby to sleep in. It is unfortunate that companies are allowed to brand these products incorrectly. The only products you should trust for sleep will be marketed as a crib, bassinet, or play yard.3
- Don’t use bumper pads, even if they say they are breathable. I was so scared after our baby got her leg caught in between the crib bars one night. After some research, I found that my baby was more likely to die from asphyxiation with a crib bumper than she was to break a leg from getting stuck between the bars.
- Don’t rely on baby monitors, go and check your baby for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, our monitor has been invaluable, and more often than not a glance at the screen is all I need to know that my little one is safe and sound. If you decide to use a video monitor, I recommend this from Project Nursery. It has settings to tell me the temperature of her room, and I can see her pretty well in the night vision camera.
What do you think about safe sleep standards? Do you agree or disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
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