Safe Sleep for Your Baby

Trigger warning: This article deals with the topic of infant death. It’s a tough topic, but it’s one that we felt was important to cover.
One of the biggest challenges in early parenting is sleep. How to help your baby fall asleep, and get them to stay asleep, quickly becomes one of the most talked about topics in your home. As we become more tired, and our baby becomes more unsettled, we can desperately start looking for quick fixes so that everyone can get some rest.
This exhaustion, and stress, can often lead to unsafe sleep practices. Many families will start reactively sharing a bed or a couch with their baby, or leave their baby snoozing in swings or baby nests. It’s common to see comfort toys, sleep positioners and cot bumpers introduced into the cot, in the hope that a baby will sleep better.
What’s most confusing, is that a lot of these products are marketed as sleep products – and yet, they are not designed for safe sleep, and actually create a huge safety risk for your baby.
What’s the risk? Well, it’s a big one: the risk of infant injury or death.
Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) is the term used to describe the sudden and unexpected death of a baby, when the cause is not immediately obvious. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the term that is used when no cause of death can be identified in the first year of life.
In Australia, there has been an 85% reduction in SIDS deaths since 1989. This amazing step forward can be attributed to the extensive public health campaigns around safe sleep.
Sadly though, in 2018, 112 babies still died from SUDI, including sudden infant death and sleeping accidents.
Red Nose Australia use a Triple Risk Model when it comes to the risk factors for SIDS.
These three risk factors are:
  • The Critical Development Period, particularly for babies under 6 months of age
  • A Vulnerable Infant, which still remains an unknown factor
  • External Stressors, such as an unsafe sleep position, sleep space or sleep environment
Whilst you can’t control if your baby may have an underlying vulnerability, what you CAN control is making sure that they are as safe as possible, by following the latest safe sleep recommendations.
So, how can you keep your baby safe?
First, create a safe sleep space.
  • Use a safe cot, and check that it meets current Australian safety standards.
  • Use a safe mattress that is firm, clean and in good condition.
  • Ensure the mattress is the right size for your cot, and check that there is no more than a 20mm gap between the mattress and the cot on all sides.
  • Use a tight, well-fitted sheet on the mattress.
  • If you are using a blanket, ensure that the baby is positioned with their feet at the end of the cot. The blanket should be tucked securely under the mattress, so that it can only come up to baby’s chest. Ensure your baby cannot wriggle under the blanket.
  • Add any additional padding to the cot mattress.
  • Add any other items into the cot. Quilts, loose blankets, sleep positioners, loungers, nests, cot bumpers or pillows are all a SIDS risks to your baby and should not be in their sleep space.
Boring is best, and a safe sleep space should be pretty dull. As an added bonus, if your baby is not distracted by their surroundings, they will find it easier to go to sleep.
Next, create a safe sleep environment.
  • It is recommended that your baby shares a room with you for the first 6-12 months, and if possible, baby is breastfed.
  • Ensure the room and house is smoke-free.
  • Position the cot away from the window.
  • Remove any dangers in your baby’s sleep space. There should be no wall hangings, lights, cords, canopies, curtains or electrical appliances in reach.
  • Heaters should be positioned well away from the cot.
  • If you are using a heater to warm the room, check your smoke alarm every month.
Finally, position your baby safely.
  • ALWAYS place your baby on their back for sleep. They should never sleep on their side or tummy, unless they are able to roll themselves into that position.
  • Keep your baby’s face and head uncovered. There should be no hoods, beanies, hats or hair accessories on a sleeping baby.
  • When your baby begins to show signs of rolling, they should be un-swaddled. Use a well-fitted, arms-out sleeping bag instead.
Keen to find out more? Please visit the experts at Red Nose Australia for all of the latest recommendations and advice around safe sleep.
Bree Hewett is a certified and experienced Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant, and a passionate advocate for safe sleep. She’s also a Mum to one very cheeky toddler. Bree has worked with hundreds of babies, helping tired families become happy families. You can find her on Instagram @sleepbybree where she shares free sleep advice and weekly Q and A’s.

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