Tip Three & Four
3. Always put your baby to sleep in his bassinet or crib. Adult beds aren't the only dangerous slumber zones for babies. Almost every family has a photo of Junior snoozing on the couch, for instance, but this scenario raises a baby's risk of SIDS by as much as 20 times, especially if he's sleeping tummy down and a parent falls asleep there with him. "He could get wedged into a crack in the cushions, where there's no fresh air," Dr. Willinger points out.
Other sleep surfaces that can increase a baby's chances of SIDS by three times or more include waterbeds, soft adult mattresses, and sheepskins. One study that recently appeared in Pediatrics speculates that African-American infants may die from SIDS at a higher-than-average rate because their parents are more likely to practice bed-sharing or to place them in nonstandard beds.
What about car seats and bouncy seats? While babies fall asleep in them all the time, they should only remain there under an adult's watchful eye. "Young infants, especially those born prematurely, have decreased muscle tone, particularly in the upper airway during sleep. This decreased tone and their tendency to scrunch down in infant and car seats, can result in a partial upper-airway obstruction," says Debra Weese-Mayer, M.D., a SIDS researcher at Rush-Presbyterian Children's Hospital, in Chicago. This can interfere with the infant's breathing.
4. Unclutter the crib. You'd probably love to put some cute accessories in there, like lacy pillows and stuffed animals. "But they can all get in front of the baby's face and hinder breathing," Dr. Thach warns.
For at least the first year of your child's life, the only things that should be in her crib (approved by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association) are a firm mattress, a secure, fitted sheet, and your baby. Don't hang anything over the side, like a comforter that your wiggly little one could pull down over herself. Crib bumpers should be firmly tied.
On chilly nights, don't reach for blankets and comforters. Dress your child in a sleeper or a sleep sack, which zips around his feet and torso but leaves his arms and head free.