Safe Sleep for Babies: Best Practices
When it comes to putting your infant down to sleep, there are some important things you can do to help keep your baby safe. We’ve collected some great safe-sleeping dos and don’ts that you can easily implement at naptimes and at night.
Why Safe Sleep Habits Are Important
Practicing safe sleep habits means guarding your baby from dangers that can happen at sleep time, whether you’re putting her down for a nap or for a longer nighttime sleep.
Potential hazards include things like accidental choking, falls, getting little fingers caught, and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
The dos and don’ts of safe sleep are covered in the next two sections. For statistics and studies on safe sleep for babies, check out this infographic from the CDC.
Take these steps to ensure a safe sleeping environment for your little one:
Check that your baby’s crib meets the latest safety standards. Brand new cribs purchased in the U.S. should meet all applicable standards. For example, cribs must not have a drop-side rail, which, when lowered, can lead to your baby falling out. Crib slats should be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart so your baby’s head can’t become trapped between them. Headboards and footboards should not have any cutouts, which could also entrap your baby’s head. The corner posts should be flush with the end panels so loose clothing on your baby can’t get snagged and pose a choking hazard.
Place your baby on his back to sleep. Do this at both nap time and bedtime. It’s the safest position for newborns, who don’t have the ability to reposition themselves or roll over. As a general rule, your baby should be placed on his back for sleeping until his first birthday. Any other position risks choking and/or suffocation and increases the risk of SIDS. Even if your baby has acid reflux, he should still be sleeping on his back. If you notice your baby has rolled over in his sleep, just place him back on his back. If your baby has learned how to roll onto his stomach and back again on his own, then you don’t have to worry about repositioning him onto his back. Of course, if you’re unsure about what’s safest for your baby, check in with your baby’s healthcare provider.
Let your baby sleep in your room for six months to one year. Having your baby in your room (but sleeping in his own bassinet, cradle, or crib) is recommended because it can decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent. It is also much safer than bed sharing. With this setup, it can also be a lot easier for you to observe, feed, and comfort your baby through the night.
Use a firm sleep surface. Make sure your baby sleeps on a firm, tight-fitting mattress that meets the latest safety standards. Cover it in a tight fitted sheet that doesn’t bunch up or come loose.
Keep your baby’s crib bare. Keep the crib free of things like loose bedding, pillows, quilts, blankets, comforters, bumper pads, and toys. Any of these objects can cause accidental suffocation. Experts agree that after 12 months of age it’s OK to introduce some objects to the crib.
Try giving a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. This can help reduce the risk of SIDS, even if the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth at some point. If you’re breastfeeding, wait two to three weeks before offering your baby a pacifier. If you’re not breastfeeding, you can start offering a pacifier at any time. Make sure not to use a pacifier that attaches to your baby’s clothes or to a toy via a string as this could pose a suffocation or choking hazard.
Lower the mattress when your baby can stand. You can prevent falls by lowering the crib mattress level as your baby grows so he won’t be able to climb over the rails and get out. Set it in the lowest setting before your baby knows how to stand.
The following should be avoided when it comes to ensuring your baby sleeps safely:
Don’t co-sleep. Your baby is at a much higher risk of SIDS, suffocation, or strangulation if she sleeps in bed with you. You could accidentally roll over onto your baby while you sleep, or your baby could get entangled in the sheets or blankets. Sleeping in your bed also increases the risk that she’ll roll out of the bed during the night. Let her sleep in your room, but put her to sleep in her own crib.
Don’t have your baby sleep in anything other than a crib, bassinet, or cradle. Never put your baby to sleep on a couch, sofa, or armchair. These can be dangerous because your baby could roll off, get stuck in a gap, or suffocate on a pillow, for example. Don’t let her sleep in a carrier, sling, car seat, or stroller. If she does fall asleep in any of these, move her to a crib as soon as possible. If you’re breastfeeding in bed, make sure to remove pillows, blankets, and any other bedding in case you fall asleep. As soon as you wake up, return your baby to her crib.
Don’t allow your baby to become overheated. Make sure to keep your baby’s room (or your room) at a comfortable temperature. Dress your baby in no more than one extra layer than you would wear. Signs she may be too hot include if she starts sweating or if her chest feels hot to the touch.
Don’t have any cords or devices within your baby’s reach. Don’t place your baby’s crib near the cord of a wired baby monitor or cords of window coverings, for example. Also, if you have a mobile, be sure to mount it out of your baby’s reach.
Don’t use a crib that is broken or has missing parts. Check that your crib meets the latest safety standards. Periodically check the crib for loose hardware, cracks, or splinters.
Don't smoke or expose your baby to smoke. Keep your home smoke-free. Smoke can increase your baby’s risk of SIDS.
As a handy visual guide, see our infographic below:
You, too, can sleep a little easier knowing that you’ve created a safe sleep environment for your baby. Following these simple guidelines can help ensure your baby stays out of harm’s way.
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