We’ve all heard the phrase “sleeping like a baby.” We usually use it when we’ve slept soundly and peacefully, without interruption.
Well, sleeping like a baby isn’t quite that simple.
Sleep is incredibly important for a baby’s physical and mental development. Newborns typically need between 14 and 17 hours of sleep per day, and infants between 4 and 11 months old need about 12 to 15 hours.
That doesn’t always mean that getting them to actually go to sleep is quite so easy. You might have the best crib, the comfiest blankets, and whatever gadget has recently been marketed as the “miracle product” you need to get your baby to sleep, yet they just won’t close their eyes. So, when you finally find that magical remedy that coaxes them to sleep, you might feel a wave of relief.
But before you give up on the crib and the lullabies, make sure that the method you’re using to get them to sleep — no matter whether it’s traditional or completely unorthodox — is safe.
The 101 on Sleep Safety
You may be familiar with the term “sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)”. SIDS is actually part of a larger problem, called “sudden unexpected infant death (SUID).”
SIDS vs. SUID: What’s the Difference?
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is an unexplained death in infants that usually occurs during sleep.
- Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) is an umbrella term for all sudden infant deaths. It includes SIDS, as well as accidental suffocation or strangulation, and sudden natural deaths, such as those caused by neurological conditions, infections, or heart disorders. It also includes sudden deaths from unknown causes.
What Does Sleep Have to Do With It?
Every year, about 3,600 babies in the US die of SUID. More than 40% of those deaths are due to SIDS — and most cases of SIDS occur during sleep.
These cases tend to be the result of unsafe sleep practices, such as improper positioning, bed sharing, and incorrect bedding. When these issues are addressed, many of these sleep-related deaths can be prevented.
Spotlight: SIDS in Kansas
Here in Kansas, about 6 in 1,000 babies pass away before their first birthday. In many of these cases, safe sleep practices might have been able to protect the baby — 75% of sleep-related deaths occurred in an unsafe sleep location (such as outside of a properly fitted crib).
Sleep Safety: Do This, Not That
When you’re getting ready to put your baby to bed, make sure you know which habits are unsafe, and what you can do instead to make sure that both you and your baby get the much-needed sleep you deserve — without putting your baby at risk.
These guidelines are particularly important when your baby is under 4 months of age because that is when SUID and SIDS are most common.
Do: Sleep in the same room.
Do not: Bring your baby into your bed.
About 70% of SUID deaths occur when a baby is sleeping on a surface that is not intended for infants to sleep on, such as an adult bed. Babies who sleep in their parents’ beds are at risk of falling off the bed, having their airway blocked, or suffering from head injuries. If you move around in your sleep, you could also roll over on top of your baby.
This doesn’t just go for beds. Your baby should never sleep on an armchair or couch, either with you or by themselves. Also, devices like bouncy seats, swings, infant carriers, or strollers should not be used for normal sleep routines. It’s okay if they fall asleep in there while you’re taking them for a walk, but don’t turn their stroller into their makeshift bed.
Instead, keep your baby’s crib in your room. You will still be able to monitor them and encourage closeness, without putting them in danger. Having your baby sleep in the same room as you can lower the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.
Ideally, your baby should sleep in the same room as you for their whole first year of life, but if that’s not doable, at least aim for the first 6 months.
Do: Have your baby sleep on their back.
Do not: Place your baby on their side or stomach.
Stomach sleeping can increase the risk of SIDS because your baby may have an increased likelihood of re-breathing their own breath that they just exhaled, leading to a buildup of carbon dioxide and low levels of oxygen. Additionally, stomach sleeping may lead to your baby’s upper airway getting blocked, or overheating.
Babies should always sleep on their backs for the first year of life. This is considered the single most effective action you can take to prevent SIDS. Monitor them frequently to make sure they haven’t rolled over into a new position.
Also, place your baby facing alternate directions each night to discourage always resting on the same side of their head. For example, place your baby so their head is on the left side of the crib one night, and so their head is on the right side of the crib the next night.
Do: Keep your baby’s crib empty.
Do not: Have your baby sleep with soft objects, such as stuffed animals, pillows, or loose bedding.
While you may receive about 1,000 stuffed animals and cute blankets when your baby is born, make sure these items stay outside of the crib. Your baby could roll over into them and suffocate.
You don’t need to throw all of those well-intentioned baby gifts away. Keep them outside of the crib, and make sure to watch your child whenever they’re playing with these gifts.
Do: Have your baby sleep on a firm surface.
Do not: Allow your baby to sleep in a bed or on a soft surface.
A soft surface, such as a memory foam pad, can become indented or conform to the shape of your baby’s head. This can increase the likelihood of their not getting enough oxygen or suffocating.
Opt for a crib or bassinet that meets safety standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Since many SIDS deaths are associated with cribs with missing or broken parts, check frequently to make sure that it has not been recalled. This is especially important if you are using an older or used crib.
Also, give thought to where in the room you’re placing the crib. Keep it away from windows where there may be window-covering cords. Make sure there are no dangling cords or electric wires nearby, as those can cause strangulation.
Do: Pay close attention to your mattress choice.
Do not: Just use any old mattress.
On a related note — you don’t just want to put them on a firm surface. You need to put them on the correct firm surface.
In order to correctly use a mattress, remember to:
- Use an actual mattress. Do not substitute pillows or cushions, even if they are firm.
- Use the correct mattress for the product: Only use the mattress that comes with, or was made for, the specific crib.
- Make sure the mattress maintains its shape, even when the mattress cover is on.
- Only use mattress covers that are tightly fitted and cannot come loose.
- Do not leave any gaps between the side of the mattress and the wall of the crib.
- Avoid mattress toppers that are designed to make a sleep surface softer until your child is more than 1 year old.
- Don’t use bumper pads. This can increase the risk of strangulation.
Do: Keep your baby cool and comfortable.
Do not: Let your baby become overheated.
Overheating can increase the risk of SIDS. This is often caused by inappropriate sleepwear or getting covered by a blanket.
Make sure that your baby is dressed appropriately for the environment. In general, they shouldn’t wear more than one additional layer compared to what an adult would wear in the same environment.
Also, look for signs that your baby is overheating, such as sweating or a chest that feels hot to the touch. While there is no evidence that a fan can lower the risk of SIDS, it may help keep your baby feeling nice and cool.
Additional Strategies for Reducing the Risk of SIDS
There are several other things you can do to lower your baby’s risk of SIDS, including:
- Breastfeed. While it’s not clear why, breastfeeding can cut the risk of SIDS in half. Unless you have a medical reason, or have been advised by your physician not to, breastfeed for 6 months. While it’s most effective if you only breastfeed, and not use other forms of feeding, some breastfeeding is more protective against SIDS than no breastfeeding at all.
- Avoid smoking. The risk of SIDS increases if a baby is exposed to smoking. If you are a smoker and are having trouble quitting, do not smoke in front of your baby. Make sure that no one else in the household does, either. To avoid exposure to thirdhand smoke — residual chemicals (including nicotine) that can stick to your clothes and other materials — practice good hand hygiene and change your clothes prior to handling your baby.
- Do not use devices like wedges or positioners, even if they are marketed as ways to prevent SIDS. There is no significant evidence that these devices actually work.
- Give your baby a dry pacifier when they go to sleep. Use one that is not on a string, and does not have a stuffed animal attached at the end, in order to avoid strangulation. This is not a “must-do” — if your baby doesn’t want to take the pacifier, don’t force them. You also don’t need to reinsert it if it falls out during sleep.
- Use skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth, regardless of feeding or delivery methods. This should be done as soon as you’re medically stable, awake, and able to respond to your newborn, and it should continue for at least an hour.
- Keep your baby up-to-date with vaccines and regular health checkups.
For more information about creating a safe sleep environment for your baby, reach out to your child’s pediatrician or family doctor.
For additional information on safe sleep, please visit: https://cribsforkids.org/
For additional information on injury prevention through Safe Kids Shawnee County, please visit: https://www.stormontvail.org/community-health-programs/classes-events-trauma-prevention/