Sleep Time for babies; How to ensure safety

The risk of having a baby die suddenly and unexpectedly during sleep time is a very real concern for parents. Knowing the facts about safe sleep will help ensure that your baby is safe from the risk of SIDS.

Introduction to Sleep Time for Babies

Bringing a newborn baby home from the hospital is a time of great excitement but it can also be a time of exhaustion and apprehension. Many new parents report feelings of worry in relation to their tiny newborn and one very common area of concern involves safe sleeping. Waking at night just to check that the baby is still breathing is something that almost every parent has done at some point in those early months after birth. Thankfully, there is some clear information and advice related to how to keep your baby safe whilst sleeping – so here is everything you need to know about safe sleep for babies.

Sleep Time for babies

What is the safest way for a baby to sleep?

NSW Health, along with every other health organisation across Australia offers the following advice for keeping your baby safe when sleeping;

–     Place your baby on their back to sleep.

–     Ensure that your baby has a cot or bassinette that meets the Australian safety standards.

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–     Ensure that the mattress in your cot or bassinette is firm and well-fitting.

–     For the first 6-12 months of life, sleep your baby in your bedroom at night.

–     Never allow your baby to sleep on the couch or in an armchair – especially with another person.

–     Ensure that the head and face of your baby cannot become covered during sleep. Tuck in sheets and blankets or use a safe infant sleeping bag. Never use a doona, cot bumper or sheep skin.

–     Remove all soft toys and excess bedding from the cot or bassinette.

–     Ensure that your baby is dressed warmly but avoid overheating.

–     If able, breastfeed your baby for at least the first 6 months.

–     Avoid smoking during pregnancy and after your baby is born. Never allow anybody to smoke around your baby.

–     Make sure that anybody who cares for your baby is aware of and understands these safe sleeping recommendations

Here you can find a free flyer that details the safe sleeping recommendations from NSW Health. Safe sleeping recommendations flyer – Maternal and newborn (nsw.gov.au)

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Sleep Time for babies

What is Red Nose?

Red Nose is a national charity that works to save the lives of babies across Australia and also supports families who have felt the impacts of the death of their baby or child. They also offer Grief and Loss services as well as indigenous programs that are partly funded by the Commonwealth and State Governments. Each year, the organisation has a major fundraising day known as Red Nose Day and the funds that are raised support the continuation of this important charity service. If you would like to get involved and support Red Nose through a fundraising event, check out this link for all of the details: Red Nose – Fundraising.

Red Nose also provides safe sleep recommendations and a range of information, brochures, articles and posters etc for parents as well as early childhood settings, in various languages to spread awareness of and information surrounding safe sleeping practices and safe pregnancy. They also provide training courses for parents and early childhood staff to enhance their understanding about safe sleep and risk factors for SIDS.

What does Red Nose recommend?

Red Nose provides a range of information and resources to support parents of babies and children, as well as early childhood educators. Within their website, you will find a wide array of advice including topics such as:

–     Safe sleeping

–     Safe wrapping

–     Transitioning from cot to bed safely

–     Making up a cot or bassinette

–     Recommendations for safe car seat use

–     When to introduce a pillow

–     Breastfeeding

–     Co-bedding for multiple births

–     Coping with sleep deprivation

–     Preventing a flat head

Sleep Time for babies

In addition to the useful information, the Red Nose website also provides an option for parents to ask a question about anything in relation to your baby or child. If you would like to explore the information and resources on the Red Nose website, check out this link: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Education | Red Nose Australia.

If your baby is attending a daycare centre, the centre is required to have policies in place in regards to safe sleep and rest, and these policies need to be informed by official health advice surrounding safe sleep recommendations, such as the recommendations mentioned above from NSW Health and Red Nose. If you are thinking of starting your baby in a childcare centre, you can read my article HERE on my top 5 things to consider before starting, which includes thinking about their sleep routine and safe sleep considerations.

What is SIDS? How common is it?

The unexpected death of a baby for no obvious reason is often described as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. Fortunately, deaths from SIDS and other fatal sleeping accidents have decreased over the last 30 years in Australia. This is due in most part to increased understandings related to safe sleeping practices that can reduce the likelihood of death.

Whilst SIDS is nowhere near as common as it used to be, unexplained deaths during sleep do sadly still occur at times. Knowing what the risk factors are and focusing on prevention can help you keep your baby as safe as possible to avoid the heartache of losing a child to SIDS.

What is the single most significant risk factor for SIDS?

There have been a number of risk factors identified that can increase the likelihood of SIDS, but stomach sleeping is probably the most significant risk factor. Sleeping on the stomach has been associated with a higher incidence of unexpected infant deaths, most likely because of the pressure that is placed on the airways whilst in this position. For very young babies, they may not have the neck strength to lift and turn their heads to the side and can become at risk of moving into a position where their face is pressed into the mattress. This is why the clear recommendation is to place your baby on their back for sleep.

Additional risk factors for SIDS include exposure to cigarette smoke, drugs and alcohol – and studies have showed an increase of SIDS in babies who co-sleep with their parents. If you prefer to co-sleep, you might like to consider these safe co-sleeping guidelines from Red Nose:  CosleepingGuideforParents_Mar21.pdf (rednose.org.au).

Why does sleeping in the same room as baby reduce SIDS?

There are many studies that have revealed that when a baby shares the same room – but not the same bed- as a committed caregiver, then the likelihood of that baby dying suddenly is reduce by up to 50%. One study has reported that when a baby is room-sharing, breastfed and placed on their back to sleep in a smoke-free environment, the risk of SIDS is very low.

Sleeping your baby in the same room as the parents means that those caregivers are able to be more responsive to the baby during the night. Studies have shown that the parent is more ‘in tune’ with their baby when they are in the same room and is more likely to respond quickly if the baby moves into an unsafe position or becomes covered by bedding.

Unexpected and sudden infant deaths have occurred more frequently in unobserved sleep periods and this is typically at night. Another aspect to consider here is safe sleeping during the day as many babies have sadly died after sleeping in car seats, baby carriers, bouncers and hammocks. These items were not specifically designed to be sleeping environments for babies and therefore it is best to remove the baby for sleep and place them into their cot or bassinette for optimal safety.

What age can you stop worrying about SIDS at sleep time?

Approximately 90% of cases of SIDS occur before the age of 6 months. The period of most risk is between 1 and 4 months. After 6 months of age, most babies have more control over their heads and can roll over or wake more easily if their breathing is obstructed in some way. By the time a baby is 12 months old, the risk of SIDS is extremely low so at this point parents can relax just a little bit more and prepare for those busy toddler years ahead.

Sleep Time for babies

Is it OK to elevate baby’s head during sleep time?

For some babies, parents have been tempted to elevate their baby’s head to help them sleep better, particularly for babies who have conditions such as reflux. The advice given across Australia is that elevating the head of a baby is not actually effective in reducing reflux and it can pose a risk to your baby. Parents should avoid devices and equipment that are designed to maintain head elevation in the cot or bassinet because there is an increased risk of baby rolling into a position that could be a serious risk to their breathing. If you are concerned about any conditions that your baby might have, such as reflux, it is best to seek advice from a paediatrician.

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What should a baby sleep in at night?

The general rule of thumb for dressing a baby for sleep is to dress them in one additional layer than you yourself would wear at night, such as a footed onesie and a muslin swaddle. You will of course need to consider the temperature in the baby’s room to make sure that they are not too hot or too cold during the night.

Newborns typically enjoy being swaddled as it makes them feel safe and soothed like in the womb. A cotton or muslin wrap is a good choice as these are both lightweight and breathable, so they are ideal for swaddling. There are also a range of swaddle sacks now available for those who are not confident to swaddle.

Once your baby starts to roll over, the swaddle can be removed as it is no longer considered a safe option. You can then place your baby in a sleep sack or wearable blanket. You can find examples of baby sleeping swaddles and sleeping bags in most baby stores such as LOVE TO DREAM™ | Swaddles, Baby Sleep Bags & SleepSuits, Baby Kingdom or even Target.

When my son Andy was a newborn, I would swaddle him in a muslin wrap (once he was older, I used baby sleeping bags) and I used the Tetra tea tree bassinet mattress which was beautifully natural and breathable, but it also wasn’t very firm and needed constant rearranging when Andy slept and an indent would form. The contents also moved around a lot so had the potential for covering his face if he moved a lot. I was therefore faced with the decision of whether to buy a different bassinet mattress that was firmer or move him straight to his cot with a firm mattress, meeting Australian standards. He was therefore in his own room from quite a young age but with his door left open, right next to my room with my door left open, I didn’t have too much concern. It is up to you to do your own research regarding safe, appropriate bedding and mattresses, but I recommend visiting the Red Nose website for further safe sleep advice.

Summary – Sleep Time for Babies

Having fears about keeping your child safe is a normal part of the parenting journey. Being educated about the biggest risk factors to your baby’s safety will help give you a greater sense of confidence and security as you strive to meet their needs, often in a sleep-deprived state. Following the safe-sleep guidelines will significantly reduce the likelihood of your baby dying suddenly and unexpectedly so that you can worry less and find greater enjoyment in parenting your precious new baby.

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