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How to keep your baby safe while sleeping
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How to keep your baby safe while sleeping

By Dudley Brown on February 5, 2020

Pinterest boards and store displays often show cribs lined with cute bumper pads and filled with color-coordinated blankets and stuffed animals.

The scene may look picture perfect, but each item presents a suffocation hazard that has no place in a crib.

More than 3,500 babies die in sleep-related incidents each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What do babies need for a safe sleeping environment? It’s pretty simple, said Hope Garcia, RN, BSN, director of women and children’s services for Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.

For safe sleeping, babies need to be placed on their backs, on a firm flat surface, with no toys or blankets. Additionally, infants should share a room with parents, but not a bed.

“It’s really simple, but different cultures, history and people confuse room sharing with co-sleeping,” Garcia said.

Safe sleep is a huge deal to Garcia and her team. Spartanburg Medical Center recently received recognition from the National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification Program as a Bronze Sleep Hospital for its efforts to promote safe sleep.

Where should babies sleep?

Babies should sleep in cribs, bassinets or pack and plays in a parent’s room until the child is 6 to 12 months old. Toys and blankets should not be placed in their sleeping areas, Garcia said. 

Babies shouldn’t sleep in beds with parents because of the risks associated with sheets, pillows and the possibility of a parent rolling over.

Garcia said parents should not confuse the skin-to-skin contact that many hospitals encourage with a good bedtime ritual. Skin-to-skin usually involves a baby being placed on a parent’s bare chest. Research shows it’s a good way for parents and children to bond, and it can help breastfeeding moms produce milk.

“Skin-to-skin is great for bonding, but not good for sleeping,” Garcia said.

She recommends having skin-to-skin sessions between feedings and when parents are fully awake.

When it’s time for a feeding, especially in the middle of the night, Garcia said that should take place away from a parent’s bed to reduce the likelihood of parents and infants falling asleep together. Keep a chair in the bedroom or nursery that parents can sit in during feedings.

Swings and other equipment that place babies in upright positions should also never be used for sleeping. Babies often have difficulty breathing if seated for long periods of time because their necks sometimes aren’t strong enough to support the weight of their heads.

Getting babies to sleep alone

Babies often cry to get needs met, including loneliness. A parent’s response can help the baby build trust, but Garcia said babies must learn to sleep alone.

Exhausted parents might feel that co-sleeping is the only way for them and their baby to sleep through the night. However, Garcia suggests looking into various methods of sleep training.

“A baby has never died from crying too much, but they have died from co-sleeping,” she said.

Garcia said there are many different ways to approach sleep training. Some involve letting babies cry alone for a while to learn to comfort themselves. Others involve parents responding to a crying baby after a few minutes with a backrub or another gesture to promote comfort.

“Every baby is unique, and each family is unique, and you have to figure out what is best for you,” Garcia said.

Garcia recommends discussing sleep training methods with a pediatrician.

While babies shouldn’t sleep with loose blankets, Garcia encourages parents to learn how to swaddle infants with blankets. Sleep sacks and sleep vests that snugly wraps around and soothes babies can also be used.

Garcia also cautions parents not to overheat infants. Infant pajamas, along with setting the thermostat to a comfortable temperature, should be enough for a restful night of sleep.

Changing times

Garcia said some of the misunderstanding surrounding infant sleeping environments stems from well-meaning relatives relying on outdated information.

Bumper pads, for example, became popular for cribs many years ago. Some cribs had rails wide enough apart that babies would get their heads stuck. Today, there are regulations that require more narrow spacing between crib rails. A bumper pad poses a suffocation risk if a child’s face is pressed against it.

Spartanburg Medical Center recently received recognition from the National Safe Sleep Hospital Certification Program for its efforts to promote safe sleep. Spartanburg Regional’s Women’s & Children’s Services provide booklets with information promoting safe sleep at all of the health system’s OB/GYN offices and online by clicking here.

For recommendations on specific issues, talk to your pediatrician about the latest and safest tips for infant sleep.