Create a Safer Sleep Environment

Sleeping baby safely asleep in uncluttered cot

Its no surprise to find out that babies spend a large amount of their lives sleeping. It’s normal, healthy and, to stressed and fraught parents, blissful. But, are you aware that the layout and features of your newborn’s sleep area can actually affect their risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other fatal sleeping accidents?

Wherever you put your baby down, whether it is a night sleep or a day nap, it is important you make sure your baby has the safest sleeping environment possible.

Unequivocally, the safest place for your baby to sleep is always in an Australian Standards compliant cot – not a beanbag, car seat, bouncer, rocker, hammock or on a couch. All new cots purchased in Australia are required to meet the current mandatory Australian Standard (AS2172) and should carry a label to prove it. Be cautious about utilising second-hand cots as they may not meet the current strict Australian Safety Standards, and potentially could be dangerous.

Your cot needs to have a firm mattress that is flat and fits well inside the cot. It’s possible for a baby to get wedged in any gap between the mattress and the cot sides, so ensure there is no more than 2cm gap when the mattress is pushed to a side or end.

As beautiful as they may look in styled photographs, in reality, pillows, quilts, soft toys, bumpers, doonas, lambs wool and the like are a big no-no. There should be nothing soft in the cot as it may lead to your baby overheating or suffocating.

Baby boy sleeping with teddy bear and blue hat
The photos look gorgeous but avoid soft toys and hats in the cot with your baby at sleep time

When positioning the cot, make sure it is placed well away from hanging blind and curtain cords as these cords have devastatingly been associated with strangulation deaths. Likewise, keep a safe distance from heaters and other electrical appliances.

For the first 6-12 months have your baby share your room, but not your bed! Room-sharing with a baby has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS and other fatal sleeping accidents and, therefore, is recommended.

Have your little one sleeping in their own cot in the same room as you. Whilst many parents do choose to share a bed with their baby, it is important to remember that sharing a sleep surface does increase the risk of SIDS in some circumstances. Remember, you are big and they are small; you are likely exhausted and liable to sleep restlessly and push bedding around in the night.

If you are considering sharing a sleep space with your special one make sure you do your research and are aware of the potential risks and how to minimise them. If in doubt, always consult your doctor, paediatrician or specialist.

Keep Your Baby’s Head Uncovered

Baby in a sleeping bag pegged to a clothes line

As warm and snuggly as they may look, your baby’s face and head should always remain uncovered during sleep to reduce the risk of suffocation and overheating.

Babies regulate their body temperature mainly through their head and face, with the head (particularly the face) the main route for heat loss. Current research confirms that if your baby becomes too hot, the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is increased, with the risk even higher if baby is sleeping on their tummy.

Consequently, sleeping your baby on their back with their head and face uncovered is the best way to protect your newborn from overheating.

A safe baby sleeping bag is a sensible choice. Using a sleeping bag that is the correct weight and size eliminates the need for additional bedding, meaning there is no possibility of your newborn pulling blankets up over their head and face. A baby sleeping bag will reduce the risk of overheating or suffocation.

Research has also shown that a baby sleeping bag will delay infants rolling onto their tummies during sleep until they are past the age of peak risk of SIDS. A sleeping bag will also keep their temperature at a more constant level whilst napping.

Make sure you choose a safe baby sleeping bag – one designed especially for babies with fitted neck and armholes and no hood – such as the multi award-winning Grobag from Tommee Tippee (who acquired the original manufacturer, The Gro Company, in 2018). We have been fans of their sleeping bags for many years and they are recommended in our Top Tips For Keeping Baby Cool In Summer article.

If you have any concerns or queries about your newborn’s sleeping environment, make sure you contact your doctor, specialist or pediatrician as soon as possible.

Infants are unable to control their own sleeping environment – they are reliant on parents and caregivers to keep them safe. The good news is there are positive steps that carers can take to make sleeping environments safer for infants. We will keep sharing these tips with you.

For more child safety advice please visit Kidsafe Australia

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