Although Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is rare, it’s devastating for the parents and family so it’s important to put simple measures in place to keep your baby safe while sleeping and decrease their risk of SIDS. About 90% of SIDS incidents happen when a baby is six months old or less. Although SIDS doesn’t only occur when babies are asleep, it’s more likely to happen when babies are sleeping so it’s more important than ever to create a safe sleeping environment for your baby. Thankfully, there are a number of controllable factors that promote safe sleeping for newborns and we’ve listed the top ten precautions in this informative guide:
1. Consider the cot
Choosing the right cot is an important part of creating a safe sleep environment for babies. Look out for cots that comply with natural safety standards and are marked with the following code: BS EN 716-2:2008. These cots will be deep enough, without cut-outs or steps, and with bars that are the correct distance apart. Your chosen mattress should be firm, flat, and waterproof, fitting your cot properly to avoid any gaps between the mattress and the frame where your baby could get trapped or hurt themselves.
2. Keep cool
The risk of SIDS is increased when a baby is too hot or too cold, so prevent your baby from overheating by following these steps:
- Keep the sleep area between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius. Use a gentle fan if needed or open the window slightly to allow air flow but be careful to avoid draughts.
- Never let your baby sleep next to a radiator or with a hot water bottle or electric blanket.
- Don’t let anything cover your baby’s head (e.g. a hat) as this could cause overheating and/or suffocation.
There are some initial signs to look out for if your baby is too hot and these include sweating, redness, or damp hair. If your baby is too hot, remove a layer or try putting them to sleep without covers. It’s normal for your baby’s hands and feet to feel cold, but if they are blue or blotchy this could indicate your baby is too cold. If this is the case, add an extra layer. Our previous blog posts on the 5 signs your baby is too hot while sleeping and 10 ways to keep baby cool in hot weather are useful resources.
3. Less is more
If your baby has the ability to grab items around or in the cot, they could be at an increased risk of SIDS. Cords from blinds, mobiles or toys could pose a strangulation risk, while pillows increase risk of SIDS by up to 2.5 times and loose fabrics can also put your baby at risk of suffocation. Remove soft toys from the cot and use cotton sheets or blankets which are easy enough to layer and tailor to your baby’s temperature. Remember, a folded blanket counts as two blankets, and covers should be fitted well around your baby to prevent fabric from reaching your baby’s mouth or nose. There has been an increase in the use of a baby pillow for flat head syndrome but we do not advise this and elaborate on the link between baby flat head pillow and SIDS later in this blog post.
4. Back to Sleep
The Back to Sleep Campaign of 1994 encouraged parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs instead of their sides or tummies and resulted in an 80% decline of SIDS incidents in the following years when it . When putting your baby to sleep during the day or night, ensure they are laying on their backs and not their side or tummy. Additionally, the baby’s feet should always be touching the foot of the cot, with their head towards the middle of the cot. To avoid plagiocephaly, make sure your baby enjoys plenty of tummy time while awake to give the back of their heads a time without constant pressure on one part of the head.
5. Stay close
Ideally your baby should sleep in your bedroom for the first six months of life as this has been shown to halve the risk of SIDS and provides reassurance for both parents and baby. We do not encourage parents to co-sleep with babies as this increases the risk of SIDS. Babies should never be left to sleep in an adult bed, sofa or chair and even if you are present, a baby in your bed could suffocate or slip into a gap and be injured. Keep your baby in a cot beside you or elsewhere in your bedroom to reduce the risk of SIDS. Staying close to your baby can also help with bonding. For more on this topic, please read our previous blog post on top tips for bonding with your baby.
When you decide to move your baby to sleep in the nursery, use a baby monitor to easily check on your baby at regular intervals.
6. Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke
Research has shown that approximately 30% of SIDS incidents could be avoided if mothers didn’t smoke while pregnant and that smoking near a baby at home could be connected to 60% of SIDS incidents. If you are a smoker it’s advisable that you do not share a bedroom with your baby even if you haven’t smoked in the bedroom.
7. Darkness helps
Light acts as one of the main stimuli that keep your baby awake. Keeping sleep areas as dark as possible will help create a healthy circadian rhythm and lets your baby know the association between darkness and time to fall asleep. Invest in a blackout blind and cover any LEDs to help your baby wind down in a dark environment.
8. Embrace noise
Did you know that the white noise your baby hears inside the womb is equivalent to the volume of a lawnmower? Your baby is accustomed to sleeping with sound so it’s helpful to keep sleep environments somewhat noisy using a white noise speaker or music. Not only will this pay off when you need your baby to drop off in a busy place, it will also help your baby drift off quicker as silence can be unsettling.
9. Avoid wedges or positioners
Although there are many accessories on the market claiming to decrease the risk of SIDS, there is not enough evidence to prove they fulfil this promise, and there have even been claims that these wedges or positioners pose more threat than protection. Additionally, positioners such as a baby pillow for flat head syndrome have gained popularity in recent years. However, there is little evidence to suggest a flat spot pillow will decrease the chances of plagiocephaly and, unfortunately, there is a link between a baby flat head pillow and SIDS. We go into this in further detail in our blog post that endeavours to answer the question, ‘are plagiocephaly pillows for flat syndrome safe to use?‘.
Stick to the rule that less is more and a cot should only have the baby in it – nothing else.
10. Breast is best
Research has found that breastfeeding for at least two months halves the risk of SIDS, amongst the many other benefits of breastfeeding. Breastmilk provides your baby with antibodies that helps them fight infections including respiratory and gastrointestinal infections that can obstruct your baby’s airways.
However, as breastfeeding isn’t an option for all mothers, while a cause and effect correlation is yet to be ascertained, there has been research to suggest dummies lower the risk of SIDS. The argument is that dummies stop babies from sleeping on their front, maintain their ability to breathe and lower their arousal threshold which allows them to wake more easily if something is wrong.
Our advice is that babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep. Rarely, about 3 or 4 times in a hundred, a baby can develop a flattening on the back of the head and there are many reasons for this happening and it’s not only about sleep position. If it’s noticed early enough, within the first few months there are strategies that can be used to minimise this flattening so if you are concerned about your baby’s head shape, feel free to contact us to speak to our team.