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Baby Sleep Safety

November is National Child Safety and Protection Month. As a pediatrician, I constantly field questions concerning safety around the home, foods that pose choking hazards, etc. One topic I am particularly passionate about educating parents on is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS.

New parents worry about all sorts of risks to their precious infant and often feel overwhelmed by all the advice available. But here is some simple information that will help prevent the leading cause of death for infants younger than 1 year of age: SIDS. To help prevent SIDS, pediatricians and the Safe to Sleep campaign urge parents and caregivers to put babies on their backs before they go to sleep.

A concerning study recently published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that this is not happening on a regular basis. Of the nearly 3,300 moms surveyed, 77 percent said they usually put their babies to sleep on their backs, but only 44 percent said they do it every time. Some moms said they don’t follow the guidelines because of advice they’ve received from friends and family, or because they say their baby sleeps better on their stomach.

The truth is that most babies do sleep deeper on their stomach. Unfortunately, studies show that SIDS is at least partly because of a disorder of very deep sleep. So, when kids fall deeply asleep on their stomachs, they’re at higher risk of SIDS.

Reducing the risk

When it comes to sleep, simple is safest. A baby should be put to sleep on his or her back on a flat surface, in a crib or bassinet that meets current safety standards, with a fitted sheet only. Remove all pillows, crib bumpers, blankets and stuffed animals to reduce the risk of suffocation.

In addition, do not allow your baby to sleep for long periods in anything that props them up, such as a swing or a car seat. When babies fall asleep upright, their chin drops to their chest, which reduces the amount of oxygen the baby is receiving. On long car trips, it’s recommended that you stop every couple of hours and take your baby out of his or her seat.


While we advise that babies sleep alone in their own crib or bassinet, newborns and infants are safest when they can be in the same room as their caregiver, so long as parents also adhere to the following advice:

  • Do not smoke. Smoking has been linked to SIDS. A parent who quits smoking can reduce their baby’s risk of dying prematurely twelvefold.
  • Do not rely on products that are commercially marketed as a way to prevent SIDS, such as breathable mattresses, mesh crib bumpers or home monitors. There is no proof that they work, and they may give parents a false sense of security.
  • Keep your baby’s room between 68 degrees and 72 degrees for sleeping, and don’t overdress your child.
  • The rule of thumb, regardless of the season, is to dress your baby like you’d dress yourself, plus one thin layer. It’s always safer for a baby to be slightly cooler than too warm. Overheating can be dangerous.

While placing babies on their backs is safest for sleep, don’t neglect tummy time during the day. Babies need to spend time on their stomachs when awake and supervised to help develop shoulder muscles and head control and to avoid the development of flat spots on the back of their heads.


Throughout November, visit parentingnow.org for informative, blog posts on a variety of topics to support National Child Safety and Protection Month.

(This article appeared in the November 13 edition of The Register-Guard.)

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