No, safe sleep isn't locking yourself in your room away from the kids to steal a few more minutes of shut-eye. As wonderful as that sounds, I’m actually writing about a type of safe sleep that is even more important. Life saving important.
Safe sleep means putting infants to sleep in an environment that reduces the risk of unexpected sleep death. No one likes to think of babies dying. As an infant safety expert, I've devoted my life to preventing it. Scientists are still working to learn all the causes of infant sleep death, but here is what we DO know:
Put baby to sleep on his or her back
For decades, parents put their children to sleep on their bellies. Babies slept better and, as any new parent knows, those are precious extra minutes. In the early 90's, infant safety experts recognized that babies placed on their bellies were at higher risk of suffocation. Some babies, and we don't know which ones, have an immature 'arousal reflex'. That means some babies have a hard time waking up from a deep sleep. If one of those babies has a hard time breathing for some reason he’s less likely to wake himself and correct the situation. This can lead to sleep death.
Putting baby to sleep on his back makes it more likely that babies will wake up and correct a dangerous situation.
Want proof? When doctors and public health experts started telling parents to place babies on their backs to sleep, the rate of SIDS fell by over 50%. Trust the experts, your baby won't choke.
Keep the room cool
Overheated babies are at higher risk of sleep death. While we don't quite understand the reasons why, research has shown that over-bundled babies or babies sleeping in warmer rooms (over 75 degrees) are more likely to die in their sleep. Keep your house between 68-72 degrees and don't over-bundle baby. Baby should have the same layer of clothing that adults are wearing. You can add one more layer for warmth if needed.
Leave blankets, toys, and bumpers out of baby's sleep space
This is a big one and right up there with back sleeping as really important. If you only remember one thing, let it be this one. Babies don't need stuffed animals, toys or bumper pads. They don't add any benefit to the crib but they do add danger. Thousands of case reviews document infants suffocating on stuffed animals, loose blankets and, the worst offender- bumper pads. Just because stores still sell bumper pads does NOT mean they are safe. Do your baby a favor and keep stuffed animals, bumper pads and anything else that is fluffy out of the crib.
Let baby sleep alone
There are going to be lots of times as a parent that you have zero control over keeping your child safe and healthy. Times when your child gets hurt on the playground. Times your teen is out doing whatever teens do (heaven help us). But choosing the sleeping arrangements of your baby is a time when you have ALL the control.
Researchers have found that sleeping with an infant, particularly under six months of age, introduces a higher risk of suffocation. We call this an 'overlay' death. “Overlay” is a nice way of saying that parents have inadvertently rolled onto and suffocated their own babies. A truly horrific thought for any parent. You may think you would never do this. The parents who lost a baby while sleeping with them never thought it would happen to them either.
If you prefer to bed-share (put baby to sleep in bed with you), please consider using a Smitten in the middle of your bed. Baby will still be close to you, but the walls will help keep you from rolling onto baby in the nighttime.
Steps that keep baby safe while sleeping
You are your baby’s parent and you get to decide what level of risk you are comfortable with. We all parent differently and sleep choices are just the beginning. As an infant injury prevention specialist I hope you’ll choose to prioritize your baby’s safety and take these precautions.
To review, here’s what you can do to reduce the chance of SIDS and suffocation:
- Don't smoke around baby. Ever.
- Offer a pacifier.
- Place baby to sleep on their back. Not the side and not the belly. Once baby learns to roll over consistently, you don't have to roll them over back over.
- Keep room between 68 and 72 degrees.
- Avoid 'smother objects' in the crib- no toys, bumper, pillows, or loose blankets.
- Avoid bedsharing. If you do decide to bedshare, please take steps to make bedsharing safer: Remove extra bedding, don’t sleep with a partner in bed, do not take anything (medication, alcohol, drugs) that will make you sleepy.