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Everything you need to know to keep your baby safe while they sleep

  • Joanna Shtrosberg

Your first responsibility as a parent is to keep your baby safe and allow them to grow and thrive. However, there is so much conflicting advice about how to look after your baby. As a new parent it can be hard to know what to do. So, I’ve set out some guidelines, based on the latest medical research about safe sleep, that you can follow to keep your baby safe.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a difficult but important topic for parents to talk about. It refers to the sudden and unexpected death of a baby. Some baby deaths can be explained by a post-mortem examination which might reveal, for example, an unforeseen infection or disorder. However, deaths of babies that remain unexplained after the post-mortem are usually registered as ‘sudden infant death syndrome’ (SIDS). We still do not know exactly what causes SIDS but research has identified certain risk factors in babies at a vulnerable stage of their development.

The very thought of SIDS is scary for any new parent and it is therefore essential to fully understand how to minimise the risks for your child.

When can SIDS happen?

Around 88% of SIDS deaths happen to babies under the age of six months.  After this time, the risks are significantly reduced.  But as SIDS can still happen after 6 months, it is important to continue with the current safe sleep advice as set out below.

Around 88% of SIDS deaths happen to babies under the age of six months.

Who is most at risk?

There are certain factors that make babies more at risk of SIDS compared to other babies. These are:

Follow the guidelines to keep your baby safe at night.
  • Low birth weight infants;
  • Infants born to mothers who received little or no antenatal care;
  • Preterm infants;
  • Male infants;
  • Infants to parents who consume alcohol; and
  • Infants aged 2-4 months.

Can I decrease my baby’s risk of SIDS?

The risk of SIDS can be increased or decreased depending on various environmental and behavioural factors. There are several factors that can increase a risk to a baby, such as exposing a baby to cigarette smoke or allowing your baby to sleep in risky environments such as a sofa. However, there are factors which can help reduce the risk of SIDS and these include:

  • Room sharing
  • Breastfeeding
  • Consistent dummy/pacifier use – for every day and nighttime sleep
  • Giving your baby their immunisations

What are the guidelines?

SIDS guidelines change over time however I have listed below the latest scientific advice on how you can reduce the risk of SIDS:

  1. The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a separate cot/crib/moses basket in the same room as you for the first 6 months.  Some experts (for example, in the US) recommend this period is extended to the first 12 months.
  2. Always place your baby on their back to sleep. Once your baby reaches the stage when they are able to roll themselves over both ways, you can let them find their own comfortable position to sleep.
  3. Use a firm, flat waterproof mattress (suitable for babies) which is in good condition.
  4. Breastfeed if possible.
  5. Don’t sleep in the same bed as your baby if:
    • you or your partner are smokers (even if you don’t smoke in bed);
    • you have recently drunk alcohol;
    • you have taken medication or drugs that make you sleep more heavily;
    • your baby was born premature (before 37 weeks);
    • your baby had a low birth weight (under 2.5kg or 5.5lb); or
    • you are extremely tired.
  6. Keep your baby in a smoke-free environment.
  7. Don’t fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair.
  8. Don’t cover your baby’s face or head whilst sleeping with any type of loose bedding. To prevent this, place your baby in a “feet to foot” position where your baby’s feet are at the end of the crib, moses basket or cot. This reduces the chance that they can wriggle down under their bedding and become suffocated.
  9. Don’t let your baby get too hot. Check this by feeling their chest, neck or head. Never cover your baby’s head with a hat during sleep.
  10. Ensure that your baby’s cot or crib is free from soft bedding, cot bumpers, pillows and soft toys.
  11. Follow these guidelines for all your baby’s sleeps, including naps and at nighttime.

Swaddling

It is important to swaddle your baby safely to avoid SIDS

Swaddling is common practice around the world and helps young babies feel protected and secure by recreating the cosy womb environment. The Lullaby Trust has stated that “further evidence is still required before a firm recommendation can be made on swaddling but parents who wish to practice this method should be informed how to do this correctly to reduce the risk.” (The Lullaby Trust, March 2019).

See my blog on how to swaddle correctly here. Or, if in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask for advice from your midwife, health visitor or community/district nurse.

Some important don’ts when it comes to swaddling:
  • Don’t swaddle your baby too tightly as this can cause hip problems.
  • Don’t allow your baby to get overly hot. Avoid thick blankets and keep an eye on the room temperature.
  • Don’t swaddle your baby once they have learnt how to roll over as this can increase their risk of SIDS.

Comforters

Comforters are great to help your child develop an attachment to something other than you! See my blog article on comforters here. Experts say that it is safe to introduce a comforter from 6 months but to remove it from your child’s cot during sleep time until they reach the age of one.

When can I stop worrying?

As a parent, I know how easy it is to worry about every aspect of your child’s development. However, as they grow and gain strength and independence their risk of SIDS decreases significantly. For example, once your baby learns how to roll over independently, this newfound mobility enables them to reposition themselves out of danger if the need arises. It is important to remember that SIDS is very rare and by following current advice you are significantly reducing those risks. As parents, we can only do our best for our children.

At Sleep Superstars we aim to support parents with the very best sleep advice which follow safe sleep guidelines. If you need help with your child’s sleep, we provide sleep welfare packages for a fraction of the cost of a traditional baby sleep consultant. After choosing your package and completing our online questionnaire, you will receive a sleep plan and resource pack that is specifically tailored to your child and your preferences. To find our how it works see here or read our testimonials.

Joanna Shtrosberg
Joanna is a certified level 6 holistic sleep consultant and founder of Sleep Superstars. Her vision is to help parents navigate the challenges of parenthood by helping them and their children get the sleep they need. Before setting up Sleep Superstars, Joanna graduated from Cambridge University and the College of Law after which she practised in the legal profession for several years. She is also a mother to two young boys so fully understands the difficulties in balancing a career with family life.