One of the most anxiety-provoking subjects for a new parent is the issue of safe sleep. We all want to make sure that our child is in the safest environment possible, but sometimes the recommendations can be difficult to implement in a practical way or hard to understand. Additionally, the baby gear industry--with lots of intentionally confusing marketing--muddles the waters of safe sleep guidelines even more. In this post I hope to lay out the main safe sleep guidelines for newborns in a simple and easy to understand way, so that you can make the best decisions for your new baby!
When sleeping unsupervised your baby must be in a sleep space designated as a “crib,” “bassinet,” or “playard” (more commonly known as a Pack n Play.) Be sure to look for these words when you’re shopping! You can feel confident that anything with these labels fully conforms to all current safety standards.
There are a lot of products that sound like they are made for sleep or are touted as amazing sleep miracles (like the Dock A Tot) that say things like “napper,” “lounger” or “sleeper.” Additionally, these things say in the fine print of their tag that they are hazardous for unsupervised sleep, but in marketing photos and on the packaging they show babies and/or parents sleeping, leading parents to believe that they are safe to put their babies in and catch some sleep themselves, but it is not safe to use these products.
Yes, even the mesh ones! The mesh ones are less likely to be a suffocation hazard, but the gaps between the bumpers and crib rails create a possibility for entrapment, and the ties create a hazard as well. As babies get older, they can also use the mesh bumpers to step on to fall out of the crib.
I know that blankets, bumpers and pillows make the crib look cute, but a young baby simply may not have the strength or awareness to shift positions if they get into a precarious position with something soft or cushiony against their nose or mouth. Emotionally as a parent, a crib can look kind of sterile with no “padding!” But rest assured that if your little one is dry, warm, fed, and snugly swaddled, this is a cozy enough environment for them to sleep.
Yes, and many babies are very soothed by the noise and motion of the car (although my babies never loved it!) Falling asleep in the car and sleeping in the car while driving is safe for a properly installed car seat. However, taking the car seat out and placing it on a flat surface is not considered safe. It changes the angle at which your baby is sleeping, and can bring their chin too far forward to their chest, which could cause airway issues. So make sure your baby’s car seat is properly installed in the car, and you can rest assured that they are safe to sleep while you’re out and about!
Studies have found that the number one risk reduction factor in safe sleep is placing babies on their back to fall asleep. This should be done each time a baby is being put down for a nap or bedtime. Many babies do not prefer sleeping on their back, which can make this one of the most difficult safety guidelines for new parents to adhere to.
So, what do you do if your baby startles or cries each time they are placed on their back? First, make sure you find a swaddle that’s a good fit for your baby. Your baby may prefer to be swaddled with arms up or down, may prefer a certain weighted swaddle like the Swaddle Sleeves Pod or a wearable blanket that is a little looser or a little more snug. Find one that they feel comfortable in. If they cry when placed on their back, give them a pacifier, a heavy hand on their chest, and a slight jiggle to soothe, along with plenty of shushing. The most important thing is exposure. Your baby may not love back sleeping on day 1 of life, but if you expose them to back sleeping each day and soothe them if they are fighting it, they will learn to comfortably sleep on their back. In the meantime, you can also give baby lots of holding or babywearing naps to keep them well-rested as they’re getting ready to their new little world!
Some babies show signs of rolling very early, and some do not roll until they are several months old. Whenever you see signs of your baby rolling, you should switch them out of a swaddle and into a sleep sack (or to make it easier, you may choose to use a swaddle transition product like the Swaddle Sleeves!). If you are not using a transition product, when your baby rolls in their sleep sack to their tummy, you do not have to rush in to roll them back! In a safe sleep space with a baby that is strong enough to roll from back to tummy, it is safe to let them sleep on their tummy at that point.
Bedsharing is a practice with deep cultural and philosophical ties, and has been shown for some families to help them get more sleep and be more successful with breastfeeding (although some families have the opposite experience!) Every family has to make their own decisions, but from a safety standpoint, unfortunately bedsharing leaves open the possibility for entrapment, falls, suffocation against pillows, blankets, someone in the bed, or on a soft mattress not intended for babies, or baby overheating. In addition, there are many disqualifiers that even major proponents of bedsharing acknowledge, such as other siblings in the bed, or either parent being a smoker. It is safest for baby to sleep near mom and dad but on their own separate space. I highly recommend a co-sleeper bassinet that attaches right up to the edge of mom and dad’s bed, leaving the ability to be just inches away from baby and have a comforting hand on or near them, but keeping them on a safer surface than an adult bed. This gives you the option for many of the benefits of bedsharing without the risk.
Several things have been shown to reduce risk:
- Using a pacifier has been shown to reduce SIDS risk up to 90%
- Using a fan for air circulation in baby’s sleep space has been shown to reduce SIDS risk up to 72%
- Sharing mom and dad’s room until somewhere between 4-6 months has been shown to reduce SIDS risk up to 50%
- Breastfeeding reduces SIDS’ risk
Please note that doing these things can help decrease risk, but not doing these things does not increase risk. So for example, if your baby simply won’t take to a pacifier, do not think that they have a 90% increase in risk for SIDS--this is not the case!
I hope this helps you to make informed and confident decisions about safety with your new sweet baby!