Establishing healthy sleep habits for your baby is hard enough, but there are safety concerns that are paramount. The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes extensive guidelines for safe baby sleep, and if you have two hours of free time I encourage you to go read them.
Since you probably don’t have two minutes of free time, let me boil it down for you in these brief safe sleep tips. See our article on Back to Sleep safety guidelines if you want the detailed recommendations.
Many of the recommendations for safe baby sleep center around how and when you put your baby into the crib.
1. Put your baby in the crib to sleep.
A newborn will sleep just about anywhere, but that doesn’t mean that you should allow this to happen regularly. Get in the habit of putting your little on in the crib or bassinet for naps and for nighttime sleep. It’s the safest place and it’s a good habit to establish early because it helps with baby sleep training later on.
The Back to Sleep campaign is a public baby sleep safety program encouraging parents to put babies on their backs (as opposed to their bellies) to sleep. Make sure you do that, too.
2. Only the baby goes in the crib to sleep.
In other words, no loose blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, or other things that pose a suffocation hazard. You should, of course, dress your baby for sleep and use a swaddle or sleep sack to keep him safe and comfortable. That’s it. This also means no crib bumpers! I know they’re cute and seem like they would protect your baby’s soft little body from the unforgiving wooden bars of the crib, but they’re not worth it.
3. Provide a firm sleep surface.
You probably think that your baby should only sleep floating on soft, fluffy clouds, like the angel that she is. But a firm sleep surface is recommended: a crib mattress that’s fitted for the crib that you have. It’s safe because your baby’s little face can’t sink into it. Luckily, most cribs and mattresses have a standard size (52″ by 27″). Most importantly, there shouldn’t be any gaps between the mattress and the crib.
4. Keep the crib safe
Your baby’s crib should be one that’s safety-certified by the JPMA or other entities. This doesn’t mean it has to be new, but if you purchase a second-hand crib make sure it’s not one of the drop-side models that aren’t made anymore because of safety concerns. Also, position your crib in the nursery to avoid these hazards:
- Curtains, mini blind cords, electrical cords, or other strangulation hazards. These need to be out of arm’s reach for your baby.
- Heavy, sharp, or otherwise dangerous objects that could fall or be pulled into the crib. A big lamp on a cord is a classic example.
- Directly in the airflow of a heater or air conditioner. Just make sure they’re not pointing directly into the crib where your baby will be sleeping.
Safe Things To Do
Safe baby sleep guidelines from the AAP also cover some best practices for feeding and soothing your baby at night.
5. Breast feed your infant
There are plenty of good reasons to breast feed your baby, enough that I don’t need to dwell on them here. What you probably didn’t know is that research shows that breastfed babies have a reduced risk of SIDS. This likely has to do with the attentiveness of a mother that breastfeeds, but whatever the reason, any nursing you can do will benefit your little one.
6. Offer a pacifier
Here’s something I always recommend for baby sleep training, and it happens to have a safety benefit as well: offering a pacifier at bedtime. Researchers aren’t sure why, but pacifier use has a slightly protective effect against SIDS. It’s also great for soothing your baby back to sleep after a wake-up. See our reviews of the best baby pacifiers for some good options.
7. Sleep in the same room as your baby
Perhaps surprisingly, the AAP recommends sleeping in the same room as your baby. This allows parents to keep a closer eye on the little one overnight, and it’s also convenient during those first few months when the little one wakes up every 2-4 hours.
Bad Habits to Avoid
Now that we’ve covered the do’s, it serves to cover some of the things you should not do. These are things to avoid.
8. Smoking near the baby
It’s not good for you or the little one. It’s not even good to allow people who smoke around the baby — the chemicals from tobacco smoke linger in hair, clothes, cars, you name it. When these things come near your baby, your little one’s perfect, just-formed lungs take them in. There’s no better motivation for someone to quit smoking than a sweet little baby coming into their life.
9. Co-sleeping after alcohol, drug, or sleep aid use
I’ve already spoken out against co-sleeping, but some people are going to do it. That’s their prerogative, but one time it must absolutely be avoided is when one or both parents have used alcohol, drugs, or a sleep aid. These simply make adults less attentive and more likely to put the baby in danger. Avoid at all costs.
10. Sleep positioners, heart rate monitors, and other hyped-up products.
There are people that will try to sell you just about anything, and they’ll use your baby against you to do it. You don’t need, and you really should not, use baby sleep wedge or positioner. Once your baby wiggles out of it, it’s just a suffocation hazard.
They do make home heart rate monitors, but unless advised to do so by you pediatrician, don’t use one. They aren’t for casual use and might lead you to a false sense of security. Also, the consumer products are a joke compared to the high-tech devices we were required to lease (at outrageous prices) to monitor our preemie twins at home.
Bottom line, don’t buy the hype! Use common sense, be attentive, and your baby will be just fine.