Safer Sleeping: Tips to Protect Your Baby While They Sleep

As a parent, your primary goal is to make sure your newborn is healthy and thriving. When it comes to daytime activities, you likely know all the ways to protect them. You make sure they get the proper nutrition, you’ve “baby-proofed” the house, and you make sure they’re up-to-date on all their vaccinations and well-baby checkups. However, many parents overlook the simple things they can do to keep their baby safe while they’re sleeping.

“Parents of newborns and infants juggle a lot of responsibilities, which can make it difficult to prioritize what really matters when it comes to ensuring your child’s safety,” said pediatrician Esther K. Chung, M.D., MPH, a Professor of Pediatrics at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University/Nemours. “Making a few simple changes to your lifestyle and routine will protect them while they sleep and reduce their risk for suffocation and SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome.”

What is SIDS?

SIDS is the unexplained death of an infant under 12 months old that usually happens while they sleep. There are certain risk factors for SIDS that you can control, and others that are related to the child’s developmental stage and potential brain abnormalities that you can’t. Providing a safe sleep environment is the easiest way for parents to reduce their child’s risk.

What Belongs in the Crib, and What Doesn’t?

While it’s natural to want to make your child comfortable while they sleep, the items you use as an adult to make yourself feel cozy are typically not safe for newborns and infants.

“Have babies sleep on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet, free of stuffed animals, pillows, bumpers and loose bedding,” said Dr. Chung.

Even swaddling your baby, a technique new parents learn at the hospital, can have risks. The blanket used for swaddling may come loose at night, which means it will then pose the same risk as putting a loose blanket in the crib. It’s better if your baby wears the clothing they will need to stay warm at night.

Proper Sleeping Position Reduces Risk

“Babies should sleep in the middle of the crib on their backs and not on their sides,” said Dr. Chung. “Sleeping in the side position is associated with twice the risk of SIDS compared to sleeping on their back.”

Dr. Chung also advises that infants should never sleep on their stomach, and they should also only sleep in their cribs — not on an armchair or the sofa, even for naps.

Use Caution When Co-Sleeping

When you’re worn out after seemingly endless nights with a newborn, it’s tempting to want them to sleep in the same bed with you. It makes feeding easier and allows you to comfort them with your eyes barely open. However, this can be risky.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages babies to sleep in the same room as parents, but not in the same bed,” said Dr. Chung. “Babies should sleep in their own crib or bassinet.”

Other Risks to Avoid

There are other risks beyond your child’s bed, sleeping position, and sleeping arrangement that you should watch out for, including:

  • Secondhand smoke, which increases the risk for SIDS. Avoid smoking tobacco, marijuana, and e-cigarettes.
  • Shelving near the baby’s crib that could fall or be pulled down, and increase their risk for injury.
  • Loose cords or window blinds near their bed that could increase the risk for strangulation.

“Also, keep in mind that breastfeeding protects your baby’s health in many ways, and reduces their risk for SIDS,” said Dr. Chung. “Breastfeeding is always the ideal if you are physically able and it fits within your lifestyle.”

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