There are about 3,400 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) in the United States, according to the CDC. Other health organizations around the world have recorded similar figures, with these deaths occurring among infants less than 1-year-old.
While there is often no immediately obvious cause for many of these deaths, research and studies have shown us that there are several things that individual families can do to reduce the chances of SIDS and other sleep-related issues from occurring.
This includes a number of best practices for safe baby sleep, as well as educating ourselves and spreading knowledge about the very real risks that babies face in their infancy. We explore this topic and outline our recommended steps for promoting safe sleep for your baby.
Recognize the Risks
Mitigating risks starts with understanding what they are. Certain factors and situations are known to increase the chance of SIDS from occurring and recognizing what they are can help you to plan strategies for making your baby’s sleep safer.
It’s important to remember that it’s not the cribs that cause deaths, but the conditions within the crib that increase risks. This can range from the items you put inside the crib or the clothes your baby is wearing.
Many other factors like room temperature can also play a role in safety, so when thinking of baby sleep safety, we would recommend taking into consideration the wider elements of the baby’s room - not just the crib.
It’s also crucial to understand how delicate your baby is in the first few months of their lives. They will respond to various stimulants and stressors in a way you might not realize. For instance, the temperature might inadvertently affect a baby’s heart rate or clothing options could make it harder for your baby to breathe.
Some babies are more at risk than others too. Bodyweight, natural development characteristics or underlying health conditions can make sleeping an extra risky time.
While there isn’t one simple solution to all this, parents can arm themselves with a good awareness of the dangers, constant vigilance in the first few months, and various strategies for improving sleeping habits and baby skills (such as being able to lift the neck independently).
What are the Biggest Risk Factors?
- Babies who are placed on their fronts to sleep
- Babies who are swaddled for too long (past the age of 2-3 months) which can prevent their ability to move freely when they need to
- Babies that are left unchecked for too long
- Babies who are exposed to smoke during pregnancy and after birth (Around 60% of sudden infant deaths could be avoided if no baby was exposed to smoke during pregnancy or around the home).
- Babies who are allowed to sleep in places other than the crib (sofas, soft chairs, parent’s beds)
- Babies who sleep next to their parents at night
Many other factors like room temperature can also play a role in baby sleep safety.
Decide Where Your Baby Will Sleep
Babies should have a fixed place to sleep that is completely safe for them and hazard-free. Most health organizations recommend placing an infant in a separate crib or Moses basket in the same room as a parent for the first 6 months. This is to make it easier for parents to check on their little ones and address any risks or dangers as soon as possible.
For instance, you will be able to tell if a room is too hot or cold if you are actually sleeping in it. And when it comes to discovering your child has flipped themselves into a dangerous position, being close to them can remove the danger faster rather than having to go into a separate room.
Having said this, it is not advised to sleep in the same bed as your child, which can actually increase the chance of SIDS occurring significantly. This is made even more dangerous if either of the parents smoke or your baby was born prematurely.
Choose the Right Crib
Firstly, a good crib should be designed especially for a child. Things like Moses baskets can also work well too, as long as they offer the right amount of support and space, but cribs that comply with the highest child safety standards are recommended as the go-to option for sleep each night.
The bars of the crib shouldn’t be too wide apart that your baby can fit their limbs or head through. It should be deep enough that they can climb over (if they’re old enough to do so). And it should have a firm mattress with no space between the edge and the actual crib wall.
It is not recommended for babies to sleep in places that are not designed to offer them risk-free sleep, such as sofas or armchairs. This is associated with a higher risk of SIDS. It is especially advised that parents do not fall asleep with their babies on the sofa.
It can be tricky sometimes, but it’s best not to breastfeed or relax with your child in a place where you are likely to fall asleep too. If you are planning to sleep or feel overtired, putting your child down in their crib first is the best option.
Take Out the Extras
There’s no need for baby cribs to include any extras inside it, such as:
- Pillows or duvets
- Crib bumpers
- Soft toys
- Loose bedding;
- Other products (such as wedges or straps)
Pillows alone have been shown to increase the chance of SIDS occurring by up to 2.5 times and these other items can get in the way of your child breathing properly, or can trap them in a dangerous position.
Put Your Baby to Sleep on their Backs
Babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep. Evidence shows us that this is the safest place for them and that both front sleeping and side sleeping can be dangerous.
Once your baby has developed strong enough neck and back muscles and can move themselves from their back to their front and back again easily, you can let them sleep in other positions. Until then, choose the back for baby sleep.
For more information about baby sleep positions, take a look at our blog: Safe Baby Sleep Positions For Your Little One
Dress Your Baby Appropriately
Not dressing your baby appropriately can lead to many health issues. While most parents around the world start out by swaddling their children, it is not recommended to keep doing this past the age of 2 months, according to the AAP and CDC.
When your baby starts rolling over or pulling themselves free from their covers, you should start to transition your baby away from the swaddle. If not, they could get trapped in a position that is uncomfortable and may restrict their ability to breathe.
Improper swaddling or swaddling for too long can also lead to hip dysplasia or developmental dysplasia of the hip, according to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
It’s not always easy choosing or buying baby sleep clothing, so for more advice, take a look at our guide and infographic: What Should My Baby Wear to Sleep? — The Right Products for the Right Time
Consider Using a Swaddle Alternative
Some babies will be comfortable being swaddled. They may try to pull their hands free, stretch out their arms, or try to kick the garment away. Using an alternative to swaddling can be beneficial to:
- Reduce the chance of the Moro reflex kicking
- Help your child to progress from the swaddle stage when they still crave restrictive comfort
- Prevent your child from getting tangled up in blankets and sheets
- Help babies retain a steady temperature
- Stop babies kicking off their swaddles and other covers
- Keep your baby warm at night
- Encourage movement and flexibility in a safe way
We’ve got more great tips about swaddle alternatives in our blog: Alternatives to Swaddling For Safe and Sound Baby Sleep
Adjust the Room Temperature
A room that’s too hot or too cold can be dangerous. Promoting safe sleep for babies requires you to adjust the temperature in their room, if not your entire house, when they sleep. This will reduce the chance of SIDS from occurring.
A room temperature of 16-20°C is ideal, with a good amount of oxygen/fresh air circulation where possible. Obviously, each country and climate presents different conditions, so you will need to plan your baby’s room temperature in a way that’s practical for you.
Some babies might get too hot or cold more easily than others, so always check them for signs of overheating or being too chilly as a measure of their comfortability, rather than just relying on what the thermostat says.
Monitor Your Baby
A baby monitor can give you peace of mind and so can regularly check on them after they’ve reached the age where they can sleep in a separate room.
Video and audio monitors that connect with your phone are great for letting you keep an eye or ear on the baby while you're somewhere else, but there’s nothing wrong with checking on them in person as long as you’re not waking them up or distributing their sleep with your entrance.
Video and audio monitors that connect with your phone are great for letting you keep an eye or ear on the baby while you're somewhere else.
You might not need to, or even be able to follow everything, but a few more tips and considerations for promoting safe baby sleep are below:
- Keep the room completely dark. Babies sleep best without any light distracting them or stimulation them, which will make it easier for theme circadian rhythms to develop healthily
- Breastfeed your child. This has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS and is also known to offer several health benefits for infants.
- Build a healthy sleep environment and bedtime routine. Having a strong regime where all stimulants are phased out before bed and there are no distractions during sleep can help your child sleep much better.
It’s right for parents to be concerned about SIDS and other sleep-related issues. However, these are only likely to occur in cases where risk factors are high. Following safe sleep best practices can massively reduce the chance of anything happening to your baby while they sleep.
These same practices are also good habits to adhere to as you help your little one develop strong sleeping skills and independence.