11 ways to keep your baby sleeping safely

Follow our dos and don’ts guide for peace of mind when you put your baby down for the night…

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  • Waking in the night to hear her son Theo crying, new mum Laura Davies, 28, from Swansea, went over to the crib next to her bed to comfort him. But when she saw he wasn’t there, Laura panicked. “Theo was a colicky baby, breastfeeding on and off through the night, so that night I’d decided to feed him in bed and must have dozed off with him on the breast,” she says.

    “When he wasn’t in the cot, I realised he must still be in my bed. I felt sick as I pulled the covers back, and discovered him buried under the quilt. He was absolutely fine, but I dread to think how close we came to tragedy,” says Laura. Theo’s 9 months old now, and Laura sits in the nursery to feed him since her scare. Her story is a warning to any mum who isn’t clued up about safe sleeping.

    If you’re unsure, follow these essential tips to make sure your little one sleeps safely tonight...

  • DO: Invest in a sleeping bag

    Duvets, quilts and pillows are a no-no for your baby if he’s under 12 months as they can smother him or reduce the oxygen to his lungs. You can use lightweight blankets, but the easiest option is to buy a sleeping bag.

    “Often, babies who die of cot death are found with covers over their heads,” says Dr Peter Blair, an expert in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) at St. Michael’s Hospital, Bristol. This can’t happen if you use a sleeping bag. Check that your baby meets the manufacturer’s age or weight guidelines, and use the right tog (thickness) for the room temperature and season.

    Try this…

    If you don’t use a sleeping bag, put your baby to bed with his feet at the foot of the cot and tuck the blankets in tightly, no higher than his shoulders to help prevent him wriggling down under the covers.

  • DON’T: Co-sleep

    Co-sleeping (where parents have their child in the bed with them at night) is on the increase. But so is concern about the risks. The simplest one is that you could suffocate your baby in your sleep.

    “Over the past year, the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death (FSID) has supported 32 families whose babies have died while bed-sharing,” says Joyce Epstein, director of the FSID. “It’s fine to breastfeed your baby in bed, but putting him back into his cot after will help protect him.”

    It’s especially dangerous to co-sleep if you or your partner smoke, have been drinking alcohol, have taken any medication or drugs that make you drowsy, or feel very tired, or if your baby was born before 37 weeks or weighed less than 2.5kg.

  • DON’T: Nod off on the sofa

    It’s all too easy to nod off in front of the TV holding your baby. But sofa sleeping is one of the biggest risk factors associated with cot death. “The number of deaths occurring when parents and babies fall asleep on the sofa has risen from 24 to 42 per year,” says Dr Blair. “It’s the only area where SIDS is increasing.”

    Try this…

    If you’re worried you’ll doze, set an alarm so you know you’ve got something to break the time you’re feeding while you’re tired.

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  • DO: Put your baby to sleep on his back

    Experts used to advise that babies should be put to sleep on their fronts as sleeping on their backs could increase the risk of choking on vomit. However, in 1991 new advice was issued recommending sleeping on their backs. It’s since saved 19,000 lives.

    Why? Theories include the fact that sleeping on his front could reduce the oxygen getting to his lungs, and that microbes in the mattress could also affect his lungs.

  • DO: Share a room

    For the first six months, the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot or crib in your bedroom. “It might be that having the parent nearby has a protective effect – or simply that you’re better placed to respond if your baby needs you – but room sharing definitely reduces the risk of cot death,” says Dr Blair. The same applies to daytime sleep – a recent FSID-funded study showed that 75 per cent of babies who died of SIDS during the day were sleeping in a room alone.

  • DO: Use a dummy

    Several recent studies have shown that babies with dummies are less vulnerable to SIDS. “Some mums are against dummy use, but settling your baby to sleep with a dummy, day and night, can halve the risk of cot death, even if the dummy falls out while your baby is asleep,” explains Joyce Epstein. It’s your decision, but if you control when it’s used, it can give you peace of mind, too.

    Try this…

    If you’re breastfeeding, wait until it’s established – usually after around a month – before introducing a dummy.

  • DON’T: Smoke

    If you’re pregnant and still puffing away, these harsh facts should make you stop. Tests on unborn rats has shown that exposure to nicotine reduces their ability to wake when their body tells them to.

    “If no women smoked in pregnancy, about 60 per cent of cot deaths could be avoided,” says Joyce. Our advice? Give it up!

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  • DO: Be temperature savvy

    Your instincts tell you to wrap your baby up warm, but overheating increases the risk of cot death. It’s thought that overheating can interfere with the way your little one’s brain controls both his sleep and breathing. “The ideal temperature for the bedroom is 16-20ºC,” says Joyce. “Keep an eye on it using a room thermometer.”

  • DO: Invest in a new mattress

    Planning to reuse your firstborn’s mattress for your new baby, or inherit a used one from a friend? If you can afford it, it’s worth getting a new one, as research by DeMontfort University, Leicester, suggests that bacteria linked to cot death thrive in old mattresses.

  • DO: Breastfeed if you can

    Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, but it’s worth persevering. A recent study carried out by the University of Munster, Germany, shows that it reduces the risk of cot death by 50 per cent.

    And even if you can’t do it all the time, you’re helping, as research also shows that babies breastfed only some of the time are a third less likely to die of SIDS than those who are never breastfed.

  • Mum’s Story

    “I was petrified she’d suffocated”

     “Amy was 24 weeks old when we moved her into her own room. She settled perfectly and slept all night. But the next morning, when I went into her room, she was lying on her front. I panicked. Fearing the worst, I put my hand on her back. The relief when I felt her breathing was immense. The following night, I was so worried about Amy rolling over I hardly slept. I got up five times to check on her, and even considered wedging her with blankets so she couldn’t roll, but was worried she’d smother herself."

    "The next day, I spoke to my health visitor, who reassured me that as Amy was able to roll by herself, the risk of SIDs was reduced and I could leave her to sleep on her front once she’d rolled that way. She told me to continue to put Amy to bed on her back though. I still check on her throughout the evening, but I’m learning to accept that she can sort herself out.”

    Alex Crompton, 37, from Stockport, mum to Amy, 6 months

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  • Safe sleeping… the facts

    • Cot death, officially known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is still the biggest killer of young babies, claiming more lives than meningitis, cancer and accidents combined.
    • “There are 340 cot deaths every year in the UK,” explains Joyce Epstein, director of the FSID.
    • “Babies under 6 months are at greatest risk, and 65 per cent of all unexplained infant deaths occur before they are 3 months,” says Joyce.
    • Because SIDS occurs when babies are asleep, safe sleeping is essentially as you’d suspect – making sure that when you put your little one down, he’s safe from the risk factors associated with SIDS. That includes everything from what’s in the cot to the room temperature.

    5 essentials for safe sleep:

    1. A cot, crib or Moses basket
    2. A firm, flat, clean and new mattress
    3. Light blankets or a baby sleeping bag
    4. A room thermometer
    5. A dummy