Is Baby’s Sleep Safety Keeping You Up at Night?

We asked an expert to answer your top safe-sleep questions.
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ByHolly Pevzner
Contributing Writer
Apr 2021
mom placing baby in crib

Getting baby to sleep through the night is a milestone all bleary-eyed parents look forward to. But doing so safely is a must. The problem? A lot of parents aren’t totally following safe-sleep advice for babies. For instance, about 58 percent of moms report putting baby to sleep with items such as loose blankets, cushions or pillows, according to a report in the journal Pediatrics. But we get it, knowing the right thing to do can be confusing, especially if you have relatives or friends feeding you outdated advice. So we asked you to share your top sleep safety questions on Instagram, and brought in pediatrician Tanya Altmann, MD, author of Baby & Toddler Basics: Expert Answers to Parents’ Top 150 Questions and HALO® brand safe-sleep partner, to answer them all.

Q: I’d like to co-sleep with my baby when she arrives, but I worry: Is it safe?

A: Sleeping with baby in your bed is simply not safe. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does recommend that baby sleeps close to your bed in, say, a bedside sleeper, play yard or a bassinet for at least six months. “While it’s totally okay to bring babies into bed to feed and cuddle, when it’s time to sleep, babies need to be in their own safe sleep space,” says Dr. Tanya. It’s super-tempting to sleep with baby nestled beside you, but know that no matter how careful you are, there’s absolutely no way a sleeping parent can 100 percent prevent sleep accidents that could lead to smothering or suffocating. Of course, if you briefly nod off while feeding baby in bed (hello, new-mom exhaustion), don’t beat yourself up. “Simply return baby to her separate sleep space—on her back—as soon as you wake up,” says Dr. Tanya.

Q: I know babies are supposed to sleep on their backs, but my baby prefers her tummy. What should I do?

A: You’re correct: Infants should be placed on their backs for every single sleep until their first birthday in order to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), according to the AAP. Since this recommenda­tion came into play in 1992, the number of annual SIDS fatalities in the US has more than halved. “It really is the safest position,” says Dr. Tanya. That said, babies do start rolling onto their bellies somewhere between 4 and 8 months old, and there’s no way to keep a roller from rolling. “So there’s no reason to stand vigil all night, constantly flipping her to her back,” says Dr. Tanya. Just make sure you continue to initially place baby on their back for the entire first year. If you’re still a little nervous about baby rolling at night, choose the HALO® DreamWeave™ Breathable Crib Mattress. The innovative design is breathable from cover to core, allowing maximum airflow for a more safe and comfortable sleep.

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Q: I’m struggling to swaddle my baby. Should I keep trying?

A: “It’s not always easy to turn a big, loose square blanket into a swaddle, especially in the early days when so much is new, but I think it’s worth it to keep trying,” says Dr. Tanya. Newborns usually sleep longer when they’re wrapped up cozy, just like they were inside mom. Swaddling is even recommended by the AAP as a safe and effective way to help calm infants and promote sleep. Dr. Tanya’s advice: Try a wearable blanket with a built-in swaddle, like the HALO® SleepSack® swaddle. With this, you simply place baby in their preferred sleep style (arms-in, arms-out or hands-to-face), pull the swaddle tight and secure it with the adhesive strips. “It’s pretty much foolproof,” says Dr. Tanya.

Q: I read that swaddling can be bad for baby’s hips. True?

A: “It’s true that if you swaddle too tightly it can cause some hip issues, like dysplasia,” says Dr. Tanya. (Hip dysplasia is when the ball and socket joint of baby’s hip doesn’t properly form.) To avoid the problem, simply keep the swaddle loose around the hips. “You want babies to be able to kick their legs and move their hips around,” says Dr. Tanya. “The snug fit should be only around the arms. That’s what promotes sleep.” The HALO® SleepSack® swaddle makes this easy since it’s designed to be loose around the legs. (The International Hip Dysplasia Institute gives it a resounding thumbs-up for healthy hip development.)

Q: Is it safe for a newborn to sleep through the night?

A: First, a reality check: “For babies, sleeping through the night means six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep,” says Dr. Tanya. And sadly, there’s no set-in-stone timeline for when that’ll occur. Instead, know that about 28 to 57 percent of 6- and 12-month-olds have yet to meet that milestone, according to a 2018 report in the journal Pediatrics. When it’s safe to let babies snooze as long as they like, however, is a different question. It’s generally recommended that you wake the newest of newborns (meaning up to 2 weeks old) if it’s been more than three hours between feeds. “This is to make sure that young babies are getting the calories and nutrition they need,” says Dr. Tanya. If baby is growing and steadily gaining weight; breastfeeding well eight to 12 times a day or bottlefeeding five to eight times; and producing at least four wet diapers and three bowel movements daily, it’s usually A-OK to stop waking baby. (Woot, woot!) “This usually happens when baby is around 2 weeks old—or once baby has regained his birth weight,” says Dr. Tanya.

Q: I’m finding it really hard to dress my baby for sleep. Sometimes I think he’s cold and the next night I worry he’s hot! How do I do it right?

A: Baby’s sleeping temperature is very important. Not only can being too cold or too hot hinder sleep, but “overheating can increase risk for SIDS, and for very young and premature babies, being too cold can cause them to burn too many calories,” says Dr. Tanya. To keep babies safe and slumbering comfortably, make sure baby’s room falls between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, Dr. Tanya recommends dressing baby for sleep in one more layer than you’re wearing.

Q: When is it okay to let my baby sleep with a blanket and her stuffies?

A: The AAP is clear: Soft objects like pillows, quilts, blankets, toys and bumper pads should be avoided during baby’s first year in order to reduce risk of entrapment, suffocation and strangulation. “Personally, I prefer to wait until baby is about 2 years old and out of the crib to start introducing pillows and stuffed animals,” says Dr. Tanya. “When babies get to be about 8 months or so, they can bounce or climb on toys or pillows to get out of the crib.” If you’re worried about keeping baby warm, remember that the AAP suggests a wearable blanket or sleep sack.

Q: When can my baby safely sleep in her own room?

A: The AAP recommends that infants and parents should share a room (not a bed) for at least six months, but preferably a year. Room-sharing not only helps prevent SIDS, it also supports breastfeeding. Despite that, research in the journal Pediatrics notes that babies—and parents—tend not to sleep as well with this setup. “If rooming with baby is not working out for you, there’s nothing wrong with moving baby to a safe sleep space in another room where you can still easily hear them,” says Dr. Tanya, who suggests possibly waiting to relocate until baby is transitioning out of the bassinet and into the crib. And when setting up the crib, know that experts suggest using a firm, polyurethane- and vinyl-free, breathable crib mattress, which promotes proper airflow and comfortable sleep. In addition to being fully breathable, the HALO® DreamWeave™ Breathable Crib Mattress is hypoallergenic and free from polyurethane and vinyl as well as foam, glue, springs or added flame retardants. Bonus: it’s also completely washable to help eliminate germs or bacteria.

Q: Are any so-called baby “sleep aid” products safe and effective?

A: “Yes, the pacifier,” says Dr. Tanya. To wit, the AAP suggests that parents consider offering a paci at nap and bedtime once breastfeeding has been well-established. “Plus, pacifiers are a great way for babies to learn to soothe themselves back to sleep,” she says. But keep in mind, pacifiers that attach to infant clothing or stuffed toys should not be used with sleeping infants. Also, any “sleep positioners” that alter the incline of the crib or supposedly need to be inside the crib are a big no. Remember: An empty crib is a safe crib.

Q: Is it okay to let baby snooze in the swing?

A: Unfortunately, that’s a no. It’s recommended that parents avoid any infant sleep product with an inclined seat back of more than 10 degrees, which includes swings, bouncers and car seats. Does that mean these are inherently dangerous? No. It means that swings, bouncers and car seats are more dangerous to sleep in. “There are instances when babies fell asleep in a swing, or a recliner or car seat and scooted down too far and suffocated,” says Dr. Tanya. “It’s also not healthy to have baby sleep with their neck bent or having something like a restraint pressing on their abdomen, which can cause more reflux.” And, yes, baby will fall asleep in all of the above. That’s expected. “When you realize baby’s sleeping—or as soon as you park the car—you should transfer baby to a safe, flat sleep surface,” says Dr. Tanya.

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Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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