A Parent's Guide to Safe Sleep for Babies

Ensure your baby's safety during nap time and bedtime with these safe sleeping tips.

Baby sleeping
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Approximately 3,500 babies in the United States die every year while sleeping, with most of these deaths being sudden or unexpected. And while this is a sobering statistic—no parent should lose their child—some sleep-related deaths are preventable. Suffocation, for example, is usually caused by a loose blanket, crib bumper, or toy.

So what should you do? How can parents prevent sleep-related accidents and injuries? Here's everything you should know about safe sleeping for newborns and infants, from what their environment should look like to how to position your baby in their crib.

Babies Should Sleep In a Bare Crib

While you may want to throw a blanket on your wee one, particularly in the winter, you should think twice. Blankets, bumpers, pillows, loose sheets, and stuffed animals are all suffocation hazards for babies 1 and younger, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Rather, you should place your baby in a bare crib.

Worried about baby getting cold? Dress them in layers or use a sleep sack or wearable blanket—keeping in mind, however, that weighted swaddles and/or sleepers should be avoided. Newborns and infants should also not wear hats while sleeping, per the AAP.

Babies Should Sleep On a Firm, Flat Surface

While most cribs, bassinets, and play yards are considered "safe," babies should always be slept on a firm, flat surface. Even an incline of 10% puts baby at risk. Make sure the product(s) you are using meet the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Be sure to check the CPSC website to ensure your child's sleeper hasn't been recalled, especially if it's been used, and avoid sleeping baby in their car seat and/or a swing. According to a 2016 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, sitting devices like swings aren't recommended for sleep. Your little one could get in a compromising position that causes suffocation, and they won't be able to get out of it.

You Should Always Put Baby to Sleep On Their Back

Sure, grandparents (and great grandparents) may scoff at the idea of sleeping baby on their back, but it is the safest sleeping position. "Babies who sleep on their backs are much less likely to die of SIDS than babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides," writes the AAP. "Some parents worry that babies will choke when they're on their backs. But your baby's airway anatomy and their gag reflex will keep that from happening. Even babies with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) should sleep flat on their backs."

Be Careful with Co-Sleeping

Co-sleeping, defined as sleeping on the same surface with baby, is common. Many parents have slept in bed with their infant, and some do so regularly. According to one study, up to 24% of parents co-sleep with their kids. But bed-sharing can be perilous. Studies show that about half of all suffocation deaths among infants happen in an adult bed. Compared with sleeping in a crib, the overall death rate is more than 40 times higher for babies who sleep with a parent. This is why the AAP also does not recommend this practice.

Your best bet? Put baby to sleep in a portable crib in your room. Then, when they're used to that, move them to a crib in their own room. Not only will be they be safe, they'll snooze more deeply.

Never Sleep On the Couch With Your Baby

While snoozing on the sofa may seem like a great way for you and your baby to bond, it should be avoided at all costs. Couches tend to be softer and more plush than cribs or beds, making them a suffocation hazard. Mom or Dad could also accidentally roll over and hurt baby, and older infants may fall, potentially injuring themselves.

Looking for a better way to bond with baby? Try laying with your wee one on the floor during tummy time or in bed when both of you are awake. "If you bring your baby into your bed to feed or comfort them, place them in their own sleep space when you're ready to go to sleep," the AAP writes. You should also remove blankets, pillows, and loose fitting sheets—just to be safe.

Oh, and never place a sleeping baby on a couch. Even if you're awake, it's never safe. It takes only a minute for suffocation to occur.

Follow All Sleep Guidelines for Naps, Too

Though it probably goes without saying, the aforementioned sleep guidelines apply to nap times, too. Your wee one should be napped in a safe environment, on a firm, flat surface void of toys or objects. They should be dressed appropriately. One layer of clothing is—in most cases—adequate, and baby should be put to bed alone. They should always be placed on their back.

Other Safe Sleeping Guidelines

Practicing safe sleep habits for your baby can be grueling during the first year. You're exhausted, up and down all night, and listening to your baby wail on their back in their bare crib. In these moments, sticking to what you know is right may feel insurmountable. But this stage won't last forever. Your baby will drift off. Soon enough, they'll outgrow these risks (and you'll graduate to big-kid concerns). In the meantime, you'll rest better knowing that you've done the safe thing.

Here are a few other sleep tips and tricks.

  • Try giving your baby a pacifier at bedtime. Some babies find pacifiers soothing. If your baby enjoys suckling, you may want to introduce a pacifier at bedtime. Just be sure the pacifier is loose, i.e. don't hang a pacifier around your baby's neck or attach it to their clothing when they're sleeping.
  • Avoid substances, during and after pregnancy. Since drugs, alcohol, and nicotine increase baby's risk factor for SIDS, you should avoid these substances—during and after pregnancy. Secondhand smoke, for example, can be just a problematic.
  • Swaddle your baby, if they like it. While swaddling doesn't necessarily reduce your risk of SIDS, some babies find it soothing. It reminds them of the comfort they felt in the womb. Just be sure the swaddle isn't too tight, and stop swaddling your baby when they begin to roll over.
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