The Realistic Mom's Guide to Baby Sleeping

It’s tempting to do whatever it takes to get your baby to sleep. Experts weigh in on how to make sleep happen, with safety in mind. 
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing 22 percent of moms placed their baby on her side or stomach, 61 percent shared a bed, and 39 percent used soft bedding in their baby’s sleep area. These actions break basic infant-safety rules and can put a baby at risk. Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., Parents advisor and author of Sleeping Through the Night, explains how to avoid common sleep no-nos and still get your baby to bed.

My baby keeps rolling onto his stomach during the night! What do I do?

You definitely shouldn’t use a foam or quilted sleep positioner to try to keep him on his back. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against them, because a baby’s face can get wedged against the side. Fortunately, if your baby can already roll onto his stomach (normally at around 4 to 6 months), his risk of SIDS is much lower because he has the muscle strength to be able to lift his head. It’s okay to let him continue to sleep on his stomach—no need to torture yourself by getting up all night long to roll him back over!

What if the only way I can get him down is on his stomach?

The truth is that most babies don’t sleep as deeply on their back—that’s why the position reduces the risk of SIDS. If he’s having trouble breathing, he’s much more likely to wake himself up when he’s not on his stomach or his side. Just shift your thinking: Because he can easily wake up, that means it’s safe. If he’s under 3 months, try swaddling, which can help a struggling sleeper learn to nod off on his back.

I know bumpers are a bad idea, but won’t my baby hurt herself on the rails of her crib?

Nope. It’s much more likely that she would suffocate by pressing her face against the bumpers or use them as a step stool to climb out of her crib—which could lead to a serious head injury from a fall. Even though babies are very active in their sleep, it’s very rare for them to injure themselves by bumping into the crib rails.

When will my child be old enough to sleep with the stuffed animal his auntie bought him?

The AAP says there should be nothing in the crib until a baby’s first birthday. But some parents do choose to give their baby a transitional object before then. The primary concern is that you need to make sure the object is safe—nothing too large that could be used as a step stool or too soft (if it feels as squishy as a pillow, it’s too soft) that your child could roll onto, which could pose a suffocation risk. For now, let your baby play and snuggle with the lovey while he’s awake, but remove it from the crib once he falls asleep.

Parents Magazine

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