There is a lot to learn when having a baby and sleeping them safely is undoubtedly one of the most important. Here are some answers to common questions about safe sleeping and lists 10 things you can do to keep your baby safe.
Why are baby sleep guidelines needed?
If a baby dies unexpectedly and for no obvious reason, it is commonly described as sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). SUDI is a broad term that includes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleeping accidents.
In 2017 (the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics), there were 309,142 births in Australia, and 87 deaths were classified as SUDI-related. From 1989 to 2017 though, the rate of SUDI deaths in Australia has decreased by 85%. An estimated 10,329 lives have been saved since risk reduction campaigns were introduced, hence the importance of following safety guidelines for sleeping a baby.
Here are 10 safe sleeping practises you can do to reduce the risk of SUDI, including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.
- Sleep baby on their back.
It is considered the safest position for healthy newborn babies. There is a higher risk of SUDI if they sleep on their sides or tummies. When baby rolls (usually about 4-6 months) you can still put them to sleep on their back, but as they sleep let them establish their own sleeping position.
Sometimes it might not be possible for baby to sleep on their back – for instance, if they have a disability – It is best to seek the advice of a medical professional regarding this.
As baby’s heads are still very soft when they are young, sleeping on their back can sometimes make their skulls flat over time – a condition called positional plagiocephaly. Keeping them off the back of their head as much as possible when they are awake “Tummy Time” can help avoid this.
- Keep baby’s head and face uncovered.
Position baby in the cot, so his feet are near the bottom end. Tuck in sheets securely so they are unable to cover baby’s head. Putting them feet first at the bottom of the cot is to ensure they can’t wriggle down and get caught under blankets. Safe infant sleeping bags with a fitted neck and armholes (no hoods) suitable for baby’s age/weight range are a safer option than blankets. Just be careful to select the correct size and tog range for your baby’s climate.
- Ensure baby has a smoke-free environment in the womb, and after birth.
There is strong evidence that links SUDI to smoking. This includes if a parent smokes while pregnant or exposes baby to second-hand smoke once baby is born. Speak to your GP or midwife if you are finding it hard to quit smoking, or phone Quitline on 137 848.
- Ensure your cot meets current Australian safety standards.
Cots that don’t meet Australia’s strict safety standards, pose many risks to your baby. Risks can include exposing your baby to lead paint, gaps either side of that cot that your baby can get caught in, and sides that are too low meaning your baby can climb over them. Look for the clear labels of AS/NZS 2172 for cots and AS/NZS 2195 for portable cots. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has downloadable booklets and videos about what else you should look for when choosing children’s cots and other nursery items.
- Sleep baby in a safe cot in your room.
It is recommended your baby sleeps in their own cot near your bed for the first six to 12 months of baby’s life. This can help you bond with your baby, respond quickly to their needs, maintain breastfeeding*, and reduces the risks of SUDI.
- If you would like to know more about the links between breastfeeding and studies about how it can reduce the risk of SUDI, see the Red Nose website here.
- Ensure baby’s cot is a safe-sleeping environment
Any items placed in your baby’s cot could cause suffocation and reduce airflow. Do not place any extra items in baby’s cot including soft toys, cot bumpers, sleep positioners, doonas, sheepskin rugs, woollen underlays, pillows, or any other decorative items. Click here for a picture and checklist of how your baby would look inside the cot.
- Use a firm and well-fitting mattress
Sometimes baby’s heads have got jammed between mattresses and the edge of the cot, so ensure there are no gaps. Soft bedding and stomach sleeping can be a lethal sleeping combination for babies so it’s important you use only a firm, well-fitted mattress for your baby. Likewise, if you’re using a portable cot, only use the firm, thin well- fitting mattress that comes with it.
- Avoid baby sleeping on couches or makeshift bedding
The safest place for baby to sleep is a cot approved by Australian safety standards. Never let them sleep unsupervised in a pram, stroller or bouncer. Sleeping on a couch, with or without another person, is dangerous for babies, as is sleeping them with any makeshift bedding or in your bed*. Dangerous situations arise if your baby gets wedged between a mattress and a wall, or slips his head under blankets, or gets stuck between pillow or cushions. Adults who fall asleep with babies can accidently roll on babies, so it is safest for baby to be asleep in their cot in accordance with safe sleeping practices.
- Some parents choose to have their babies in bed with them for several reasons: settling, baby-parent attachment, practical for breastfeeding. If you choose to co-sleep, there are things you can do to minimise the risk, see the Red Nose – Tips for safer co-sleeping
- Avoid overheating baby
Dress your baby in clothing that is warm, but not hot as overheating is a risk factor for SUDI. Use what you wear to bed as a guide for what to dress baby in. Avoid beanies indoors (including in the car) as your baby predominantly controls their temperature through the face and head. A forehead thermometer is an important nursery tool for parents to have, and the quickest way to check a baby’s temperature is to feel baby’s back or tummy.
- Red Nose has a thorough article about temperature and babies.
- Make sure your baby’s carers know how to protect against SUDI.
Ensure any of your baby’s carers know about safe sleeping practices, this includes professionals.
Sources and for further reading about safe sleeping visit:
- Raising Children: https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/sleep/sleep-safety/safe-sleeping-tips
- Healthy WA:https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/S_T/Safe-infant-sleeping
- Red Nose: https://rednose.org.au/
- Health Direct: https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/safe-sleep-for-babies