By Adrian Sparrow
Getting an infant to fall asleep is a milestone worth celebrating. Exhausted parents will try anything to get a fussy baby to sleep, but other parents, books, and blogs offer a wide range of different approaches. Do babies sleep on their stomachs or backs? With or without blankets? In their parent’s bed or their own crib? For a developing infant, these questions profoundly impact their health and could have tragic outcomes.
Around 3,500 babies in the US die suddenly in their sleep every year. Most of these unexpected infant deaths are due to strangulation, suffocation, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
SIDS is when an infant dies without explanation, usually in their sleep. Physical risks associated with SIDS include premature birth, low weight, respiratory infections, and brain defects that affect the baby’s breathing control and sleep arousal. While the cause isn’t fully understood, all newborns and infants under one year are at risk of SIDS.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS, but a safe sleeping environment can reduce the risk. Here are some tips to help your baby sleep safe and sound.
-Research shows that the best way to protect babies is to have them sleep on their backs every time, including naps. When sleeping on their back, a baby’s trachea is located on top of the esophagus, reducing choking risks. Place babies on their backs on a firm, flat surface that doesn’t indent when the baby lays on it. If babies sleep on their sides or stomach, they could suffocate.
-Keep soft objects out of the baby’s sleep area, including stuffed animals, pillows, fluffy blankets, non-fitted sheets, quilts, and bumper pads (which were recently banned in the USA).
-Avoid falling asleep with your baby. If you feel sleepy, put the baby in their own bed. If there is a risk you’ll fall asleep while feeding, clear the sleeping area of pillows, sheets, or blankets that could cover the baby’s face, and put the baby in their own bed as soon as you wake up. The risk of SIDS increases when sharing a bed with your baby. This risk increases even more when infants sleep on a couch, armchair, or cushion.
-If possible, keep the baby’s sleeping area in your room. Place the crib or bassinet close to your bed. Sleeping in the same room can lower the risk of SIDS and make it easier for you to feed and watch over your baby.
-Keep babies from getting too warm, as overheating can increase the risk of SIDS. Don’t let the baby sleep with a hat or other head covering, and keep an eye on symptoms like sweating and hot or flushed skin. Babies should sleep in a dark, quiet, cool environment like adults. To keep babies warm in a cool environment, dress them in extra clothing (one more layer than you would wear in the same room) or a wearable blanket.
-If your baby can roll onto their stomach, you don’t have to reposition them for sleep unless they can only roll one way. If they can’t roll back to a supine position, pick the baby up and place them on their back.
-Get regular prenatal and postnatal care, and avoid alcohol and other substances during pregnancy. The risk of SIDS is higher when babies are exposed to alcohol, nicotine, and other illicit substances, both during and after pregnancy. Be sure to attend all the well-child care visits and ensure your baby is growing healthy.