Ultimate Guide To Baby Sleep Safety

Welcoming a baby into the world is one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences that you can have. It's also a bit scary and overwhelming at times. There is so much to learn and do, and it really changes your life forever.

There are also lots and lots of things to worry about, and SIDS is near the top of the list. Since SIDS can happen at any time, with no apparent reason, it is one of the scariest things that new parents have to think about. It can create a ton of anxiety and stress as well.

The good news is that the more you know about SIDS, the better you are able to identify and mitigate risk factors. While you can't entirely eliminate the risk, you can at least move forward confidently, knowing that you have done everything in your power to stack the odds in your favor. That way, you can get back to the enjoyable parts of parenthood and put your anxiety to the side.


What Is SIDS?

SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and it is the unexplained death of an infant under the age of one. Each year SIDS takes the lives of 3,500 infants in the US.

While SIDS impacts babies under the age of one, 90% of SIDS cases are with infants that have yet to reach six months of age. In fact, babies between one and four months old are at the highest risk.

Given the fact that SIDS is unexplained, it creates a great deal of anxiety for new parents. This is especially true since babies sleep so much in the first 6 - 12 months of life. Some parents even become fixated on what can go wrong, and have trouble sleeping themselves. For that reason, it is a good idea to educate yourself about risk factors and about the ways to mitigate those risks.

Ryan's Note: When our son was born, we worried about SIDS constantly. I was the parent that would lean in close to the bassinet to try and confirm that my son was still breathing in the middle of the night. There were plenty of times that I would lie awake worrying about this issue (though I do tend to have trouble sleeping anyway).

So, I did all of the research that I could around sleep safety, and took all of the recommended precautions. Then, I just tried to put it out of my mind since there was no sense in worrying anymore. This is easier said than done, but I will say that I worried a lot less after a few months.

When my daughter arrived a couple of years later, I hardly worried about SIDS at all. I just knew that we were doing everything that we could to make sure she was safe, and that the odds of anything bad happening were pretty low as well.

In some ways, there is no substitute for experience. For a lot of first time parents, worrying is just part of the drill.

SIDS Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that can elevate the risk of SIDS. However, it's important to point out that even when these risk factors are present, the probability of SIDS is extremely low. So, there is no need to panic just because of the presence of one or more risk factors.

  • Smoking. Smoking before, during, or after pregnancy is a risk factor. In fact, even being around someone that smokes can increase a baby's risk.
  • Premature birth. Babies that are born early are not as well developed as babies that are born after a full term, and their risk level is a bit higher.
  • Gender. Three out of five SIDS cases are boys. It's not entirely clear why, and this isn't an issue that you can address either. But, it's worth knowing.
  • Alcohol and drug use. Mothers that drink alcohol or take illicit drugs during pregnancy increase risk levels.
  • Delayed or inadequate prenatal care. Proper prenatal care gives doctors an opportunity to keep track of how the pregnancy is progressing. If they spot an issue or something that might cause a premature birth, they may be able to address it.
  • Being unable to breastfeed. Breastfed babies have a much lower incidence of SIDS than formula fed babies.
  • Overheating. Babies that are overdressed or are sleeping in a room that is too warm are at higher risk.
  • Age. While SIDS impacts babies under the age of one, 90% of cases happen to babies in the first six months. In fact, babies that are one to four months old are at the highest risk of SIDS.

While SIDS can be a scary thing, sleep is quite important for infants. Insufficient sleep can have a negative impact on their nervous system, and brain development. It can also affect their demeanor, as many parents of overtired infants can attest.

How To Put Your Baby Down To Sleep Safely

While SIDS can be scary, there are actions you can take to mitigate your baby's risk. In fact, some experts believe that up to 50% of SIDS deaths can be eliminated through better education.

Where To Sleep

When it comes to sleeping with your little one, you want to be close, but not too close. Sleeping in the same room in the beginning is a good idea. This way, you can keep a close eye on them. In fact, room sharing has been proven to decrease SIDS risk by 50%.

However, it's not safe to sleep in the same bed. This increases the incidence of SIDS, especially if you have soft blankets and pillows in the bed. Babies are 40 times more likely to die from suffocation when sleeping in the same bed as an adult.

The safest way for your little one to sleep in the early days is to be in your room, but in their own crib or bassinet. By the way, it's important to make sure your crib meets all the latest safety standards as well.


How To Set Up Your Crib For Safe Sleep

Using a firm crib mattress with a securely fitted sheet is the best set up for your baby's crib. Babies should not sleep with any stuffed animals, toys, pillows or blankets since all of these things can increase the risk of suffocation. Make sure there are no cords from curtains, baby monitors, or anything else within reach of the crib since these can be strangulation hazards. It's also important not to use wedges, bumpers or positioners. While these are often marketed as safety devices, they can actually make things more dangerous.

Some parents feel that putting babies down in an empty crib is harsh. However, it's really the safest thing for your baby. While you might feel like your little one would be more comfortable and happy with blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals, these things actually make it much more dangerous.

How To Dress Your Baby

Overheating is a major risk for infants. So, you want to be sure not to overdress them. You should never cover your baby's face or head when they're sleeping either. Using a sleep sack or swaddle is a good way to keep them warm and comfortable. Just be sure to keep the room at a relatively cool temperature.

Once your baby hits the two months mark, it's time to stop swaddling. By this point, some babies are rolling over and moving around enough that a swaddle can actually end up blocking their airways.

How To Position Your Baby For Safe Sleep

Always put your baby on their back when you put them down to sleep. This is the safest way for them to sleep whether they are going down for the night or just for a nap.

Until your little one is old enough to start rolling over on their own, sleeping on their back is best. In fact, even after they are rolling over, they should still start out on their back each time they go to sleep.

Tummy time is important for babies as they develop. However, it should only be done when babies are awake and under adult supervision. For babies, sleeping on their tummy or side is a risk.

Other Ways To Mitigate The Risk of SIDS

  • Pacifiers. Using a pacifier has been proven to lower the risk of SIDS. When you put your little one down to rest, don't secure the pacifier to their clothing in any way. If it falls out while they are sleeping, there is no need to put it back in.
baby with pacifier
  • Monitors. Baby monitors are a great way to keep tabs on your infant, but they are not a substitute for actually going into the room to take a look. Similarly, some parents like to use breathing monitors for peace of mind. However, these have not been proven to reduce the risk of SIDS, so you should not rely upon them. It's also worth pointing out that while breathing monitors may give you some peace of mind, they are also likely to make your heart race from time to time since most of them are prone to false alarms.
  • Twins. If you have twins, make sure that they each have their own space for sleeping.
  • Breastfeeding. If you breastfeed for 2 - 4 months, it reduces the risk of SIDS by 40%. Doing so for 4 - 6 months can reduce this risk by 60%.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that SIDS is one of the scariest things confronting new parents. However, while you can't eliminate the risk entirely, there are actions that you can take to reduce it.

Worrying about this risk a little bit is probably a good thing. After all, that is what will motivate you to educate yourself and take all of the proper precautions. As long as you are doing everything that you can to help ensure your little one is sleeping safely, try not to let anxiety over safe sleep get to you too much.

About the Author Cristin Howard

Cristin is a co-founder of SmartParentAdvice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.

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