Becoming a new parent can be daunting. There’s so much to learn in such a short amount of time, and you have to learn it all on too little sleep. One of those new skills you have to pick up is how to create a safe sleeping space for your baby.
As adults, it is difficult to imagine the risks associated with sleeping, but for babies the dangers are very real. Research shows that babies are at a greater risk of dying if they are not placed in a safe sleeping environment.
Young babies in particular are at risk of dying from a condition called Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This is when a baby dies with no obvious cause of death. The risk of SIDS is greater for babies under 6 months old, but it can affect older babies as well. The exact cause of the syndrome isn’t clearly understood but there are things that can greatly reduce the risk to babies.
Below you can find out more about how to create a safe sleeping environment for your baby.
Sleeping on their back is the safest position for a baby. For their first six months, you should make sure to always put them on their back before they go to sleep. As they get older, they will be able to roll themselves from on their back to their front and vice versa. When they first start doing this, you might want to roll them back onto their back, but as they get stronger you can let them find their own sleeping position.
Cots or Moses baskets are best for sleeping. You should be aware that some popular sleeping products for babies do not follow safer sleep guidelines. Items such as cushioned sleeping pods, nests, baby hammocks, or anything that wedges or straps a baby in place can pose a risk to babies under 12 months.
It’s best that young babies sleep alone in a cot or Moses basket. It’s not recommended that you share a bed with your baby (also known as co-sleeping). In some cases, it is very dangerous to co-sleep with a baby; for example:
- Either you or your partner smokes (even if you do not smoke in the bedroom);
- Either you or your partner has drunk alcohol or taken drugs (including medications that may make you drowsy);
- You are extremely tired;
- Your baby was born premature (37 weeks or less);
- Your baby was born at a low weight (2.5kg or 5½ lbs or less).
Sharing a room with you is the safest place for babies under 6 months old, even during the day. When it is time for them to sleep, keep them put them down in their own cot or Moses Basket in the same room as you. You should never sleep on a sofa or armchair with your baby, this can increase the risk of SIDS by 50 times. If you think you might fall asleep, put your baby down in a safe place.
Keeping their cot clutter free is also important in creating a safe sleeping space. Babies only need a mattress and some bedding (or baby sleeping bag) for sleeping. They do not need items like pillows, duvets, soft toys or bumpers. These can all increase the risk of SIDS or an accident. Keep their feet close to the foot of the cot and any bedding should be tucked in under the mattress. Their bedding should not go above the shoulders. This position means they can’t wriggle down under the covers.
Maintaining a comfortable room temperature can also protect your baby. A room temperature of 16 – 20°C with light bedding is comfortable and safe. A thermometer can help you keep a room at a comfortable temperature, but every baby is different and you should still check your baby’s temperature. Do this by feeling if their chest or back of their neck is hot or sweaty. If they feel warm, remove one or more layers of bedding or bedclothes.
In the winter, it can be difficult to keep your baby’s room at between 16 – 20°C. Adding an extra layer can help, but remember to not cover your baby’s head when indoors as their head is important in maintaining their body temperature. If you choose to keep your heating on all night, make sure to keep it at a relatively low temperature (below 20°C). Remember, that despite the colder temperatures, you should still check your baby’s temperature directly.
If you struggle to heat your home, there is support for you. You may be eligible for the Warm Home Discount Scheme. There’s also the Green Homes Grant that can help to make your home more energy efficient.
In the summer or on holiday somewhere warm, it can also be harder to keep your baby’s room at a comfortable temperature. Keeping their bedding lighter can help, or if it is very warm, sleeping in just a nappy is fine. Opening a window or door if it is safe to do so can help keep the air moving, as can using a fan, just make sure not to point it directly at your baby. Remember to keep checking their chest or back of the neck to see if they are hot or sweaty.
If your baby is ill, they may need less layers than usual. This is because babies tend to be hotter than usual when fighting an illness. Just as normal you should periodically check their temperature by feeling their neck or chest to see if they are hot or sweaty. For more advice on looking after children and babies when unwell, why not try downloading our Essex Child Health App.
The information on this page has been summarised in two handy guides you can download and keep: