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What Does "Safe Sleep" Look Like?


What Does "Safe Sleep" Look Like?

Safe sleep for babies is a pretty big topic and a lot of parents and health professionals are talking about it. You may have heard recommendations for safe sleep from your doctor, or on a commercial, but is it really important? What does it look like? Let's talk a little bit about safe infant sleep guidelines and keeping your baby safe at night and during naps.


Why Do We Need Safe Sleep Guidelines?

It might seem easy to scoff at something like “rules” for where and how a baby sleeps. After all, hasn't the human race come this far without them? Technically yes, but sadly there have also been many preventable injuries and deaths that may have been avoided with education about safe sleep. Some parents may not know that certain items in a crib can cause a baby to suffocate, or that it is hazardous to sleep upright in a chair or sofa while holding a newborn. Observing safe sleep guidelines can help families reduce their risks of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), overheating, suffocation, and other hazards.


Safe Sleep at Naptime

The safest place to lay your baby down for their naps is in their bed: a crib or bassinette with a firm, clean mattress and a tight-fitted sheet. There are many products on the market which are advertised as naptime helps (or not, but people use them that way anyway!) such as rockers, bouncers, and swings. These do not fall under safe sleep guidelines, as the baby is not able to lie flat on their back on a stable surface. However, many parents still choose to allow their babies to sleep in these products, so if that sounds like you, just be sure to supervise them. Never bring in the infant car seat so they can sleep in it – the baby's head can fall forward and compress their airway, causing a risk of suffocation.


Crib Safety

A newborn sleeps about 16 hours a day, so we need to ensure that their bed is a safe place for them! The mattress should be firm, covered with a tightly-fitted sheet, and fit well in the crib without leaving any gaps. The rails should be close enough together that the baby can't wedge themselves into them, and the whole bed should be free of blankets, pillows, toys, and any other objects. This includes bumpers – while some parents worry about their baby sticking their arms and legs in between the rails, the suffocation hazard of a soft, cushy bumper is actually a much bigger issue.


Back to Sleep

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the safest way to lay a baby down to sleep is on their back. A wiggly baby can easily get themselves into trouble by not being able to lift their head and turn away from something that obstructs their breathing. As they get older and more mobile, they will be able to maneuver themselves into the sleeping position that is comfortable for them. A pacifier, which is also recommended by the AAP to guard against SIDS, is a great way to help soothe a baby in the back to sleep position.


What About Co-Sleeping?

To clarify, co-sleeping and bedsharing are not the same thing. Co-sleeping refers to the baby sleeping in the same room as the parent. This can include: bedsharing, a co-sleeping product, or a crib or bassinette in the parent's room. The AAP does recommend that parents co-sleep with the baby in their room for their first year of life, but on a separate sleeping surface: with the caveat that if you are exhausted during night feedings, it is better to feed with the baby in your bed than sitting on a chair or sofa. Parents who make the conscious decision to bedshare despite the suggested guidelines should ensure that their baby is not surrounded by pillows or blankets, and that bedsharing is never done after alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs have been used.


So, to briefly sum up current guidelines for safe infant sleep:


  • place the baby on their back to sleep

  • on a firm, flat, separate sleeping surface

  • free of blankets, pillows, and toys

  • and never in a car seat or with a parent using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs.