As a new parent, leaving your baby to sleep can be incredibly stressful – and it's not uncommon to find yourself worrying that every little thing could jeopardise her safety. Especially with scary phrases such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) thrown around at baby groups.
But there’s no need to panic. To help ease your mind, we’ve outlined the ways that you can help your baby sleep safely and reduce the risks of SIDS, or cot death as it's more commonly known.
Keep Your Baby In Your Room
The best, and safest, place for your bub to sleep is in a cot or Moses basket in your room for her first six months. As well as making night feeds ten times easier (no trekking across the hall when your baby needs her 3am feed) it also will help you keep an eye on your baby during the night.
Co-sleeping is favoured by some parents, but isn’t advised by most health experts.
“You should never share any kind of sleep surface with your baby if you’ve had alcohol or if you’ve taken drugs,” says Lucy McKeon, Research and Information Manager at The Lullaby Trust.
“And stay smoke-free – that applies to mum during pregnancy and both mum and dad after, because smoking is strongly associated with SIDS.”
Make Sure Your Baby’s Cot Is Safe
While we adults love our huge, plump pillows and eiderdowns, babies only need a really simple set up when they sleep.
“Firstly, your baby needs a firm, flat and waterproof mattress,” says McKeon. “Pick one that’s not sagging and not old. It needs to be firm enough so that your baby’s not sinking into it.” Make sure it’s waterproof, or has a fitted waterproof cover on top. It will save you a lot of cleaning issues!
“Secondly, use either a well-fitting baby sleep bag or sheets and a thin blanket over your baby. If you use sheets, tuck them around her firmly and under the bottom of the mattress to ensure it’s all snug and secure.”
Once your baby’s able to pull herself up to a standing position, take down any mobiles hanging above her cot as they could pose a choking risk.
Get The Room Temperature Right
Your baby’s room should be between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius – putting up a room thermometer is a really simple way to know how hot or cold it is.
But there are some things to be aware of. “We don’t recommend putting the cot near a window because of the draft or right next to the radiator,” says McKeon. “And your baby shouldn’t wear a hat when she’s asleep – or anytime she’s indoors.”
It's normal for your baby's hands and feet to be cooler than the rest of her body, so don't use them as a guide to her temperature. "Instead, feel her tummy or the back of her neck and if they feel too hot or cold then adjust her layers accordingly," says McKeon.
Put Your Baby In A Safe Sleeping Position
Babies under six months old are safest sleeping on their backs. But if your baby does roll over onto her stomach in the night, try not to panic.
“In the beginning, we advise parents to turn their baby if they roll over in the night,” says McKeon. “TYou don't need to stay awake all night but until your baby can roll from her front to her back then it’s safest you always make sure she sleeps on her back.”
You can build up the shoulder and neck muscles in your little one by introducing some tummy time during the day. Try 15 minute sessions, a few times a day and lie on your stomach alongside your baby to keep her company.
“Once you can see your baby turning from back to front and front to back in the daytime, then she’s safe to find her own position at night,” says McKeon.
Consider Using A Dummy
Dummies have been found to be associated with lower rates of SIDS, so long as they’re used safely and as instructed. But hold off on using one until breastfeeding is established.
“A dummy can interfere with babies latching on to the breast,” says McKeon. “You also shouldn’t force your baby to take the dummy if she doesn’t want it, or put anything on it (like something sweet) to make it more tempting.”
Research has shown that breastfeeding can also boost your baby's sleep safety. "It's quite robust evidence. Though we stil don't know exactly what the biological mechanism is, we do know that any breastfeeding, of any duration, can reduce the chance of SIDS,” says McKeon. So, even if you don’t breastfeed exclusively, it’s better than not breastfeeding at all.
Follow A Routine
Research shows that consistency is the key to safe baby sleep.
“We’ve noticed higher rates of SIDS occurring when something in the sleep routine changes,” says McKeon. “If you’re using a dummy then offer it to your baby during every sleep. And if you’re swaddling, then swaddle consistently.”
[Baby Blog: Having A Baby Is The Ultimate High]
[Mum Diary: When Motherhood Goes Wrong]
Have you established a sleep routine with your baby? Let us know in the comments below.