When it comes to developing safe and healthy sleeping patterns for babies, the amount of information and advice available can seem overwhelming. Yet safe sleep practice is very important as it can reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
SIDS is a devastating event that results in the death of a healthy infant during sleep in their first year of life. Fortunately, the rate of SIDS in Australia is now quite low. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that the incidence of SIDS has fallen by as much as 84% since 1990 and this is thought to be the result of public health campaigns to promote safe sleeping practices, and particularly sleeping babies on their backs. Australian researchers were among the first to provide data demonstrating a link between face-down sleeping and an increase in the risk of SIDS.
We’re still not sure exactly what causes SIDS. SIDS happens at a particular stage in a baby’s development and it affects babies who are vulnerable to certain stresses. This vulnerability can be due to premature birth, low birth weight, or other reasons not yet known. Stresses in the environment can include tobacco smoke, getting tangled in bedding, minor illness or having a breathing obstruction.
What is safe sleeping?
Red Nose is the recognised national authority on safe sleeping practices for infants and children. Red Nose recommends the following safe sleeping practices:
- Sleep your baby on their back from birth, not on their tummy or side
- Sleep your baby with their head and face uncovered
- Keep baby smoke-free before birth and after
- Ensure the baby sleeps in the parents’ room in a safe cot next to the parents’ bed for the first six to 12 months
- Breastfeed your baby
- Use a cot that meets Australian standards
- Choose a firm, clean and well-fitting mattress
- Remove all quilts, doonas, pillows, toys and loose bedding
- Keep the sleeping area free of hazards like dangling cords and electrical wires
- Remove clothing with ties or hoods before putting your baby down to sleep
You should also avoid overheating your baby or falling asleep with your baby on a couch or sofa. This is because when you sleep with your baby on a couch or sofa, there is a higher chance that your baby could become stuck between cushions and you may not notice. It's important that any person caring for your baby is familiar with these safe sleeping practices.
What about co-sleeping?
Some people believe sleeping in the same bed at night will make a baby feel a deeper connection to their parents. Red Nose advises that co-sleeping is not always safe and the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot or bassinet beside your bed.
If you do decide to co-sleep, Red Nose recommends some practices you can do to reduce the risk:
- place your baby on their back to sleep – never on their tummy or side
- make sure the mattress is clean and firm
- keep pillows and adult bedding away from baby
- make sure baby can’t fall off the bed – you can put the adult mattress on the floor to help reduce the risk
- make sure your bedding and sheets can’t cover your baby’s face
- place your baby to the side of one parent – never in the middle of two adults, or next to other children or pets
- move the bed away from the wall – so the baby can’t get trapped between the bed and the wall
- use a safe sleeping bag
- tie up long hair, remove all jewellery and remove teething necklaces
Using a safe baby sleeping bag
There are many benefits to using a safe baby sleeping bag. When a baby is in a safe sleeping bag, they cannot slip inside the bag and become completely covered. The sleeping bag should be the correct size for the baby with a fitted neck, armholes and no hood. The benefits of using a safe sleeping bag include:
- reducing the risk of bedclothes covering the baby’s face
- delaying baby rolling onto the tummy during sleep
- promoting back sleeping as the zipper opens to the front
- keeping the baby’s temperature at a more constant level while sleeping
- Safe sleep advice for parents and carers on 1300 998 698 – the service is available 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified Healthcare professional.