It’s safe to say that from the moment our babies first enter this world we want to do anything and everything to keep them safe and healthy. This primal instinct to protect our children is activated seemingly instantly, so it’s no wonder Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) can be terrifying to new parents. Although tremendous progress has been made in identifying ways to reduce the risk of SIDS it is still unknown what causes it. Some studies have suggested that infants who die from SIDS are born with brain abnormalities or defects, but to date there is no screening test that identifies babies who have these abnormalities. What we do know is that a child’s sleep environment can either increase or decrease the risk of SIDS, as can other environmental factors. Just as we cannot always prevent a car accident from occurring but we wear a seatbelt to ensure our chances of survival in the event an accident occurs, we don’t want to obsess about the risk of SIDS but we do want to take all the precautions we can to reduce the risk of SIDS and sleep-related deaths. Yes, that may mean avoiding the latest gimmick on the market even if it does promise extra sleep.
Here are the Dos and Don’ts of safe sleep:
• Do NOT co-sleep (i.e., sleep in the same bed or sleep surface)
This is a big one and a common mistake. Don’t make it! Evidence is growing that bed sharing increases the risk of SIDS. While it may seem cozy, warm, and inviting, NEVER co-sleep with your baby. Sleeping on soft surfaces (i.e. mattresses, armchairs, couches) with or without blankets is a significant risk factor for SIDS. Co-sleeping also poses the risk of entrapment and suffocation. Some studies suggest that room sharing can reduce the risk of SIDS because the parent is nearby; however, studies do not support bed sharing as a safe practice. Some caregivers will feel better about being nearby to monitor baby so if room sharing with your baby allows you to feel less anxious then it is a good decision for your family.
• DO NOT use at home monitoring devices that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS.
I know as a parent you might want to do everything you can to protect your baby but I wouldn’t recommend home monitoring devices that claim to reduce SIDS. They are proven to be unreliable, too sensitive, and thus disrupt sleep needlessly.
• DO NOT use hats or allow baby to overheat.
Dressing children in clothing that can cause them to overheat also poses a risk. The optimal temperature for sleep is somewhere in between 65-70 degrees depending upon how the child is clothed. Studies show that allowing children to overheat can cause them to enter a deep sleep that is difficult to arouse from. We do not want to dress children too warmly and we never want to cover their heads. According to the Safe to Sleep Campaign, SIDS risk is higher for infants who sleep with their heads covered than for infants who sleep without their heads covered.
• DO NOT smoke or let anyone else smoke around your baby.
• DO NOT buy pillows, positioners, hammocks, or SIMILAR ITEMS that promise extra sleep. Most, if not ALL these items, are discreetly labeled as not intended for unsupervised sleep. This is because a baby should not be sleeping on a soft surface as noted above. The safest place for a baby to sleep is on a firm, flat surface such as a crib mattress.
• DO NOT Put anything in the crib with baby.
Up until the age of one a child’s crib should not contain anything other than a pacifier. (No pillows, blankets, sheepskins anywhere in his sleep area.) Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of the sleeping area. The only lovey we endorse before the age of one is the muslin lovey square from Aden and Anais. Instead of loose blankets, use a swaddle for a little one who still has a startle reflex and choose a sleep sack or wearable blanket for your older baby. These wearable items will keep baby safe, cozy, and warm. Finally, while crib bumpers look pretty, they impede the circulation of air within your baby’s crib. (Even mesh ones that promised to be “breathable” are not recommended.)
• DO provide a firm sleep surface that is covered only by a fitted sheet. Your child’s mattress should be firm and your crib sheet should be fitted.
• DO offer a pacifier.
Studies show that pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDS for all babies. We do not want to attach the pacifier to anything however and we do not need to replace if it falls out.
• DO Breastfeed
Breastfeeding is recommended and is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS.
• DO immunize your child.
Evidence suggests that immunizing children reduces the risk of SIDS by 50%.
• DO put baby down on his back for naps and nighttime sleep – ALWAYS. Make sure all caregivers know to do so as well.
• DO make sure your little one gets plenty of supervised awake tummy time to facilitate development.
We want to do everything we can to keep our children safe; no matter how tired, exhausted or sleep deprived. There are safe ways to get everyone in the family the sleep they need and deserve without the use of unsafe props or unsafe sleeping practices. If you want to learn more about how to create healthy sleep habits the safe way from the start we are here to help!
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.