Sleep safety is obviously one of the topics close to the hearts of all new parents. We cover the basics of safe sleep for newborn and young babies in our BabyNatal Practical Baby Care classes, and for parents who want to have a better understanding of how babies sleep and why, some of our amazing teachers also offer a one-off Baby Sleep workshop.
If you’ve ever been to one of our classes before, you’ll know that we’re never ‘prescriptive’ – we don’t tell you what to do or what’s right or wrong when caring for your baby. But for something as important as sleep safety, we do make sure that we give you all the facts, so you’re equipped and empowered with the right tools to keep your baby safe when they sleep.
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are 5 point to keep in mind to ensure your baby is safe when sleeping.
- Always place your baby on their back to sleep
To reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS or cot death) babies should always be placed to sleep on their back.
Of course we all know that babies at some point learn to turn around and will start to have a mind of their own, so the current advice states that:
- If a baby is younger than 6 months, and once you’ve placed them to sleep on their back, they turn onto their stomach in their sleep, you should gently turn them back.
- If they are older than 6 months, you’ve placed them to sleep on their back, but they turn themselves around, you can leave them.
- If in doubt and feel more reassured, you can continue to turn your baby onto their back if they are older than 6 months and turn themselves onto their stomach.
Remember that, contrary to the advice that previous generations of parents were given, should a baby be sick in their sleep, they have the ability to instinctively turn their head to the side. For this reason, it is best not to put a baby to sleep on their side either, as they could easily turn themselves onto their stomach from this position.
- Keep your baby smoke-free during pregnancy and after the birth
We all know how smoking negatively impacts our health, but when it comes to developing babies, living in a smoke-free environment becomes even more important.
Here are some of the ways smoke can affect a baby:
- Cigarette and cigar smoke deprive the baby of oxygen, and this can interfere with the development of the brain areas that control breathing.
- Harmful chemicals enter the baby’s body when they are exposed to passive smoke.
- It’s been found that levels of ‘good cholesterol’, which helps to protect the heart, are lower in babies who are exposed to passive smoke, so their little hearts could be at risk too.
- The tiny nasal passages of babies are very sensitive to smoke and other irritants and allergens. Some babies also find it harder to breathe through their mouth when their noses are blocked, so stuffy and blocked nasal passages can interfere with good breathing.
Statistics indicate that if both parents smoke, a baby’s SIDS risk is more than 3 times higher than if neither of the parents smoke.
- Consider NOT sleeping in the same bed as your baby if…
- Your baby was born prematurely (37 weeks or less)
- Your baby was of low-birth weight (2.5kg or less)
- You or your partner smoke
- You have been drinking or taken drugs
- You are extremely tired
These are factors that increase the risk of SIDS in a baby.
If you would like to share a bed with your baby and don’t fall into any of the categories above, you should research how to do it safely. This includes thinking about a sleeping environment where the baby cannot fall off the bed, wedge themselves between the mattress and the headboard for example, but also come in contact with pillows and duvets, which can be suffocation hazards.
The Lullaby Trust has information that you can download for free on their website.
Please bear in mind that although bed-sharing is safely practiced by many families around the world, advice states that the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a separate cot or crib in your room for the first 6 months.
- Avoid sleeping on a sofa or in an armchair with your baby
There seems to be unanimous consensus around the fact that falling asleep with a baby on a sofa or armchair (or for a baby to sleep on a sofa or armchair alone) is simply not safe. If a parent fell asleep while holding their baby, they may accidentally let go of the baby, and the baby could get hurt. But also, the sofa cushions can present a suffocation hazard, and are not a firm enough surface for a baby to sleep on.
- Consider removing any extra objects from your baby’s place of sleep
If your baby sleeps in a cot or crib, consider removing any soft toys or objects that could interfere with the baby when they are asleep. For your peace of mind, the less objects (cuddly toys or additional bedding, including cot bumpers) you have around your sleeping baby, the better. If you want to avoid items like blankets getting in the way of your sleeping baby, you can try and place your baby in a baby sleeping bag – this will ensure the baby is kept warm and will prevent them from wriggling out of their covers.