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Ashlee Neuman
Deputy Editor

10 Ways You Can Make Sure Baby Is Sleeping Safely

Sleep-related death is every parent’s nightmare, but luckily there are ways to reduce the risk. Read on for the AAP’s top safe sleep tips.

It’s a beautiful thing when baby drifts off to sleep—but when your new-mom paranoia kicks in, you might find yourself constantly checking on your infant to make sure they’re still breathing. And it’s not a wholly unreasonable concern: According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 3,500 sleep-related deaths among US babies each year. Luckily, experts have figured out a few easy things parents can do to help ensure safe sleep for babies. Here are the top 10 tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to keep baby safe and sound while they sleep.

Photo: Lucy Schaeffer

1. Make Sure Your Crib Meets Safety Standards

Step one in ensuring crib safety: Whether you’re using a crib, portable crib, bassinet or play yard, check that it meets the safety standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). When you were a baby, your parents may have used a crib with a drop railing, but the CPSC has banned that type of crib since 2012, after finding that cribs with sides that lowered put babies at significant risk of suffocation and strangulation.

2. Use a Firm Sleep Surface

Adults may enjoy their pillow top mattresses, but babies should always sleep on a firm surface—meaning a hard surface that doesn’t indent when they’re lying on it. That could be a type of crib, bassinet or play yard with a firm mattress and a tight fitted sheet designed specifically for that product. You also don’t want any large gaps between the mattress and sides of the crib; when a mattress is fitting properly, you shouldn’t be able to slip more than two fingers down the sides.

3. Place Baby to Sleep on Their Back

It doesn’t matter if you’re putting your child down for a nap or for the night—always place baby to sleep on their back, not their stomach. This is one of the most important tips for safe sleep for infants. Generations past put their infants on their tummies, thinking they might otherwise choke on their spit-up, but the AAP reassures that baby’s airway anatomy and gag reflex will prevent that from happening. Even babies with reflux should be placed on their backs. Why? Because research shows infants who sleep on their backs have better airflow and are much less likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides—a position from which babies can easily roll onto their tummies.

As babies gets older, they may start rolling onto their bellies overnight. If your child is around 6 months old and good head and trunk control (which they probably do, if they’re rolling over a lot), then you don’t have to get up and turn baby over onto their back. Still, you should always put baby on their back at bedtime until your child is at least 1 year old.

4. Don’t Put Anything in the Crib Other Than Baby

Other than the mattress, fitted sheet and your child, there should be nothing in the crib while baby sleeps. That means no blankets, pillows, toys or crib bumper pads. Sure, your nursery photos might look extra-cute with a quilt draped over the crib rail and a plush bear tucked into the corner, but when it’s time for baby to go to sleep, these items can put your little one at risk of suffocation, strangulation and entrapment and should all be removed. If you’re worried about baby getting cold, it’s safe to use a wearable blanket—a fabric sack, with or without arms, that you can zip your child into, eliminating the risk of their face getting covered by loose bedding.

Photo: Jamie Grill / Getty Images

5. Try Offering Baby a Pacifier

While giving your child a pacifier is by no means required (after all, there are some pros and cons), one of the huge benefits is that it’s been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS, even if the pacifier falls out of baby’s mouth after they’re asleep. If you’re breastfeeding, the AAP recommends waiting until you and baby have the hang of it (usually two to three weeks) before introducing the pacifier. And if your child simply doesn’t like sucking on a paci, don’t sweat it.

6. Go Ahead and Swaddle Baby

Not all babies enjoy being swaddled—aka, being wrapped up burrito-style—but if yours does, know that the AAP deems it safe to put baby to sleep in a swaddle. Which is great news, given that swaddling, which mimics the snugness of the womb, can help babies sleep more soundly. Just make sure your child is always on their back, and that they aren’t swaddled so tightly that they can’t move their hips around or breathe easily. As soon as you spot baby breaking free or trying to roll over, it’s time to ditch the swaddle, since you don’t want your child to sleep with loose blankets or roll onto their belly and not be able to return to their back.

7. Remove Any Cords and Wires Near the Crib

To help ensure safe sleep, remove any window cords or electrical wires—including your baby monitor wires—that hang near baby’s crib, since your little one could get tangled in them and choke.

Photo: iStock

8. Keep Baby’s Room Cool

It’s natural to want to make sure baby is toasty warm overnight, but studies show sleeping in a hot room actually increases the risk of SIDS by around 4.5 percent. For best safe sleep practices, set baby’s room temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit to keep baby comfy and safe.

9. Have Baby Sleep in Your Room

An easy way to reduce baby’s risk of SIDS—by a whopping 50 percent, according to the AAP—is to place baby’s sleep area in your own bedroom for at least the first six month, ideally up to a year. Place the crib, bassinet or play yard close to your bed. It’ll make it easier for you to feed, comfort and keep an careful eye on baby.

10. Only Bring Baby Into Your Bed for Feeding or Comfort

While the AAP and CDC are proponents of room-sharing, they’re decidedly against bed-sharing, saying it puts baby at a higher risk for sleep-related death. After you’ve finished nursing or soothing your little one, place baby back in their own sleep space. Of course, plenty of new moms are battling exhaustion, so if there’s a chance you might fall asleep with baby still in your bed, the AAP recommends making sure there are no pillows, sheets, blankets or other items that could cover your child’s face and head or cause them to overheat. As soon as you wake up, move baby back to their own bed.

Published January 2019

Plus, more from The Bump:

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: What It Is and How to Prevent It

Tips for How to Get Baby to Sleep Better

10 Best Baby Cribs