Creating a Safe Sleep Environment for Your Baby

Your baby will spend a lot of time sleeping during their first year of life. At Little Sleepers, Big Dreamers my goal is to help your baby become a little sleeper, in a safe environment that is ideal for great sleep. Setting up a safe sleep environment for your baby is essential but may feel a bit overwhelming. To help, I created a safe sleep environment checklist to help your little one be a safe, little sleeper. 

Pro tips: The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its Safe Sleep Environment Recommendations in 2022 to provide parents and caregivers with the most current information to help create a safe sleep environment for babies. Be sure to check out Table 3!

The first year of your baby’s life is marked by rapid growth and development, and a safe sleep environment is vital to support your baby’s well-being. Allowing your baby to learn to fall asleep in a consistent and safe sleep environment can help everyone get the rest they need! Although the American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep Environment recommendations were established for babies up through 1 year, it is important to create a safe environment for your little one even as they transition to a big kid.

Understand the Importance of a Safe Sleep Environment for Your Infant

Before we dive into creating a safe sleep environment, let’s take a moment to understand why it’s so crucial. Safe sleep practices are primarily aimed at reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related infant deaths. SIDS is a tragic and unexplained phenomenon that claims the lives of seemingly healthy infants, typically during sleep.

SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants aged one month to one year in the United States. While there is still a lot we don’t know about SIDS, we do know there are ways to help reduce the risk. As you welcome your new baby, the frequent night wakings and struggles to establish feeding and sleeping routines may be exhausting. Don’t be tempted to fall into unsafe infant sleep practices or place your baby in any other than a safe sleep environment; it is simply not worth the risk. Instead, ask for help and seek support from your friends and family, and follow these recommendations to create safe sleep environments for your baby in your home.

Pro Tip: It may be helpful to set up a few different safe sleep environments in your home prior to welcoming a newborn. They sleep a lot! Having a safe sleep environment near you provides you with a place to set them down for sleep, safely. If your baby’s nursery is on the second level of your home, consider placing a portable crib or pack’n play on your first level to make it easier on your tired and healing body.

Follow the ABCs for a Safe Sleep Environment 

The ABCs of sleep should be followed by all caregivers, for every sleep. Helping your baby sleep in a safe sleep environment will help them establish healthy and lasting sleep habits. 

A is for Alone 

Your baby should sleep in his or her own space and should not share a bed with a parent, sibling, or pet. You may room-share but never bed-share with your infant. Room-sharing means your baby is sleeping in the same room as a parent but in their own safe sleep environment such as a crib, bassinet, or portable crib. The AAP recommends room-sharing with your infant for at least the first six months, but never bed-sharing. 

Keep it bare. For a safe sleep environment, keep it bare. A clutter-free sleep environment is not only tidy but also critical for your baby’s safety. While a cute and fluffy crib may seem appealing, it’s essential to prioritize safety over aesthetics. The sleep space should be free of any loose bedding, blankets, pillows, bumpers, stuffed animals, or anything else that could block them from breathing or become wrapped around their neck. 

Use a Swaddle or Sleep Sack. Swaddles and sleep sacks or wearable blankets are a safe and cozy alternative to traditional blankets. They keep your baby warm without the risk of loose bedding. 

  • Never use weighted products (such as weighted sleep sacks or blankets).
  • Swaddles should be secure and snug around the baby’s chest but loose enough to allow for your hand to slide in. They should fit loose around the hips. It is unsafe to swaddle a baby that is 8 weeks or older. Discontinue using the swaddle prior to your baby rolling and/or by 8 weeks of age. Transition to using a sleep sack instead.

B is for Back

One of the most effective measures to reduce the risk of SIDS is placing your infant on their back to sleep. This practice is recommended for all sleep times, including naps and nighttime sleep. 

Babies should be placed on their backs for all sleep during their first year of life. Placing your baby on their back helps keep the airway open and reduces the risk of suffocation. If your baby is able to confidently roll from back to tummy and tummy to back, the American Academy of Pediatrics states you do not need to return them to their back during sleep. Be sure there are no blankets, bumpers, pillows, or stuffed animals in the sleep space.

Pro Tip: While back sleeping is recommended, supervised tummy time during waking hours is crucial for your baby’s development. Tummy time helps strengthen neck and shoulder muscles, promoting the development of motor skills. 

  • Tummy time should be supervised to ensure your baby’s safety. 
  • Place your baby on a firm, flat surface, such as a playmat or blanket, and interact with them during this time. 
  • Regular tummy time sessions can help prevent positional plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome.
  • Offer tummy time for short increments every day building up to at least 15-30 mins per day by 7 weeks of age.

C is for Crib

The foundation of a safe sleep environment for your infant begins with selecting the appropriate sleep surface. Choose a firm, flat surface approved for infant sleep such as a crib, bassinet, portable crib, or play yard containing only a tightly fitted sheet covering the mattress. All infant sleep surfaces should be manufactured after 2011 and certified by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission as these surfaces are crafted to meet safety standards, reducing the risk of entrapment and suffocation. It’s important to note that adult beds, couches, armchairs, and other soft surfaces are not suitable for infant sleep. These surfaces can pose suffocation risks due to soft bedding and the potential for the baby to become trapped or roll into crevices and should never be used for infant sleep.

  • Choose a firm mattress that is approved for infant sleep. Ensure there are no gaps in between the mattress and crib as it should fit snuggly. If using a bassinet or portable crib, only use the mattress sold with the product. 
  • Keep the sleep space flat. Elevated sleep positions are not safe even for babies with reflux or upper respiratory infections. 
  • Never use positioning products for sleep. No Boppys, DockATots, Rock-n-Plays, or any other devices as these products are not safe for sleep.
  • Lower the crib mattress before your baby starts to sit independently. The crib rail should be mid-chest or higher when your baby is standing. 
  • Follow the manufacturer’s height, weight, and age recommendations and discontinue use if your child no longer meets these requirements. If using a bassinet, transition your baby to a crib before they meet the maximum height, weight, or age requirements and before they can sit, climb, or roll out. 
  • Place the crib at least 3 feet away from windows, furniture, or cords. Never attach anything to the crib (such as a baby monitor) or hang anything above the sleep environment as it may fall on your baby or into their sleep space. 

Additional Things to Consider When Creating a Safe Sleep Environment

In addition to the core safe sleep practices mentioned above, here are some additional considerations to enhance your baby’s sleep safety:

  1. Keep it cool. Maintaining an appropriate room temperature is essential for your baby’s comfort and safety. Generally, a room temperature between 68-72°F (20-22°C) is considered comfortable for most infants. Dress your baby in light, breathable layers to prevent overheating. Overheating can increase the risk of SIDS, so it’s important to avoid overbundling your baby. Using a room thermometer can help you monitor and maintain a suitable room temperature. This ensures that your baby is not too hot or too cold during sleep.
  1. Avoid Over-bundling. Overdressing your baby can lead to overheating, which is a risk factor for SIDS. While it’s essential to keep your baby warm, especially during the colder months, it’s equally important not to over-bundle them. Over-bundling can make it difficult for your baby to regulate their body temperature, increasing the risk of overheating. One safe way to keep your baby warm during sleep is by using sleep sacks or wearable blankets. These garments provide warmth without the risk of loose bedding that can pose suffocation hazards.

Pro Tip: Remove any hats, clips, or bows prior to placing your baby down for sleep.

  1. Offer a Pacifier. Offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime has been associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. While the exact mechanism is not fully understood, using a pacifier during sleep appears to have a protective effect. It’s important to note that you don’t need to force your baby to take a pacifier if they refuse. If they do take one, ensure it is clean and in good condition. Avoid using pacifier clips or cords that could pose a strangulation hazard. 
  1. Breastfeeding is Protective. It has also been associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. The protective effect of breastfeeding is believed to be multifactorial, including the transfer of antibodies and the regulation of the infant’s sleep arousal. If you can, try to breastfeed your baby. 
  1. Maintain a Smoke-Free Environment. Keeping your home smoke-free is crucial for your baby’s health and safety. Smoking during pregnancy and exposure to secondhand smoke has been linked to an increased risk of SIDS. It’s imperative to establish a smoke-free environment for your baby from the moment they are born.

If you or anyone in your household smokes, take measures to quit smoking and create a smoke-free home. The benefits extend far beyond reducing the risk of SIDS, as smoke-free homes promote overall family health.

Continue to Keep Them Safe

Creating a safe sleep environment for your infant is a fundamental aspect of parenthood. While the risk of SIDS cannot be entirely eliminated, following safe sleep practices significantly reduces the risk. As parents and caregivers, it’s our responsibility to prioritize our baby’s safety during sleep and to provide them with the best possible conditions for a good night’s rest. Here are a few ways you can continue to keep your baby safe while sleeping. 

  1. Educate Caregivers. Anyone responsible for your baby’s care, whether it’s a family member or a childcare provider, should be educated about safe sleep practices. Sharing this knowledge ensures that your baby sleeps safely wherever they are. If your baby will be in the care of others, take the time to discuss and demonstrate safe sleep practices.
  1. Stay Informed.  Keep abreast of the latest safe sleep guidelines and research. As our understanding of infant sleep safety evolves, staying informed ensures that you are providing the most up-to-date care for your baby. Sign up for recall alerts by registering with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  1. Trust Your Instincts.  While following safe sleep guidelines is crucial, it’s also essential to trust your instincts as a parent. If something doesn’t feel right or if your baby’s behavior or health concerns you, seek advice from a healthcare professional.

By implementing these safe sleep practices and considerations, you can rest easier, knowing that you are providing the best possible conditions for your baby to sleep soundly and securely. Don’t forget to download your safe sleep environment checklist to help your little sleeper stay safe. 

***Disclaimer: Always consult with your child’s doctor and review any updates to the American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep Environment Recommendations or the safe sleep guidelines where you live. ***

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