Is your newborn sleeping safely?

When you’re a new parent, there is so much to take in, it can be overwhelming.  But one thing that is important to be aware of, are the safe sleep guidelines for your new baby. Is your newborn sleeping safely?

Safe Sleep guidelines are updated when new research comes out about certain risks. And as a parent it is important to know about safe sleep guidelines. This is so you can make informed decisions based on the best information available at the time.

Why is safe sleep important?

Your baby’s sleep environment can affect his or her risk for Sudden Unexplained Death of an Infant (SUDI). This was previously known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and also includes other sleep-related causes of death, such as suffocation.

This is important, because no one wants the worst to happen!

The guidelines here have been shown to reduce the risk of SUDI by creating a safe sleep environment for your baby. But please note, while they are best practice, there is often much more to the story than just putting them in place. Parenting can come with many challenges.

But for now, lets look at the current safe sleep guidelines so you can be fully informed as the parent of a new baby.

Safe sleep guidelines state

Babies should share a bedroom with parents for at least the first 6 months. I think most of us want our newborns close anyway. Just to keep an eye on them. But they are NOISY sleepers.

Interestingly, the United States changed the recommendation of baby staying in a parent’s bedroom from 6 months to 12 months a while ago. After this had been in place a while, they found that it did have an impact on sleep when they moved a child to their own room later (they found that children adjusted to their own room better if moved before 12 months). So do consider that when keeping bubs in your bedroom. But that’s an aside. Back to the safe sleep guidelines.

Babies should also have their own sleep space with a firm sleep surface/mattress. It’s important to make sure there are no gaps between the mattress and the frame. Any mattress needs to be the correct size and fit the space well.

What else goes in the sleep space?

Let’s talk about what should be in the separate sleep space with baby. The answer is… not much, if anything!

All your newborn needs in their sleep space is a fitted sheet – nothing under the sheet or mattress, no positioners or wedges, no cot bumpers or toys. And none of those soft baby surround pillows you can buy. Is it worth the risk?

To be clear. these things are NOT safe to use in your newborn baby’s bed:

  • pillows or cushions
  • loose sheets or blankets, covers or other loose bedding
  • bumper pads (pads that attach to the ends and sides of cots)
  • loose ribbons, ties or threads on a baby’s clothes
  • toys, teething necklaces, or anything that could suffocate or choke baby
  • sheepskins aren’t suitable if there is a history of asthma or allergy in your family, because they can collect dust mites. If you want to use a sheepskin, use a short-hair type, and cover it with a sheet.
  • Soft pillow-like baby surrounds that sit next to baby

And to add to this, think about where you place your newborn’s sleep space.

The bassinet and cot should be located well away from any items with strings or ties, like:

  • hanging/dangling mobiles
  • curtains
  • pictures or wall hangings
  • dangling cords or window blind cords (any cords need to be wrapped around safety devices attached to the wall at least 1.6m off the floor).

You don’t want anything to fall onto the cot or be a tangling/strangling risk.

You also need to keep their bed away from:

  • power points
  • heaters
  • pets
  • other children.

Yes, keep it all in mind.

Back IS best

You’ve likely heard this before. The back is best for sleep (it has a lower risk of SUDI). On their back, your baby’s airway is clear and open, and this helps them breathe easier. However, I will add here, that if baby is on their back, it will likely be harder to calm them if they get upset. So, if you need to help them settle, pick them up or move them to their side while they are with you, and THEN place them (when calm) on their back for sleep.

Swaddles still have their place

Swaddling is advised through to 8 weeks of age, as long as your baby is on their back and the swaddle does not overheat your newborn. Also ensure the swaddle is loose around the hips. And only swaddle your baby for sleep or to settle them.

When your baby exhibits any signs of starting to roll, the swaddling must stop. As that’s when it becomes a safety risk (they can’t push up if swaddled).

While we’re talking swaddling, note that your baby must be able to roll in both directions before it is okay to allow them to stay in the sleep position he or she moves to (refer to the section above: back is best, at least until your baby can move freely).

What about a dummy?

In NZ we call it a dummy, but it really is a pacifier or soother. Simply because sucking is soothing for babies under 6 months (and often longer). There also appears to be a protective factor of sucking on a pacifier. That means NOT using one won’t increase the risk of SUDI, but if you do use one, the risk is lessened.

Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime, when baby is more than 1 month of age, and breastfeeding is well established. This is often the best way to calm your newborn. And of course, skip the pacifier clips or strings, as you want to avoid suffocation or strangulation.

And, if the pacifier falls out, no, you do not need to replace it. Continually replacing it will mean it becomes a sleep prop, and that’s when you can end up replacing it again and again and again, all night long (if that’s the case for you, contact me).

No hats for sleep

The no hats comment relates to overheating. It’s really important to not let your baby get too hot during sleep. Overheating is definitely a risk factor. At most, it’s recommended that baby should wear only one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear to be comfortable. And note that a swaddle counts as a layer.

This also means no hats for sleep, as excess heat is released through the head. And we want them to be able to cool off that way if need be.

One more thing

Please be mindful that your baby doesn’t sleep unsupervised in car seats, strollers, swings, or infant carriers. Small babies under 4 months are the most at risk for potential asphyxiation. Don’t place a car seat (with baby in it) in the cot. And don’t use weighted sleep sacks (at any age) or blankets if baby is less than 12 months.

Your newborn will spend a good portion of their time sleeping, especially in the early days (newborns need up to 18 hours sleep a day when first born). So safe sleep, and the right sleep environment is important.

I know that parenting is a journey (woah, what a journey), and each parent needs to make their own decisions. But it is also important to be know the safe sleep guidelines so you can make your decisions, informed.

This information was taken from the American Academy of Paediatrics, and NZ Plunket, safe sleep guidelines. Will things change again? Probably, but this is what we know as current in January 2024.

If you’re looking for more information on how to make a sleep sanctuary for baby – you can read more about what will help with sleep HERE.

Please follow along for more sleep information as your baby grows. I solve sleep issues and I’m here to give you sleep tips and tricks at all ages. You’ll find me on Facebook and Instagram. And if sleep isn’t going as well as you like – book in a free initial call to see how I can help.