You’ll find that, once you have a baby, one thing that occupies your mind more than you ever thought possible is sleeping.
Are they safe while they are sleeping? Are they sleeping too much? Is your baby sleeping enough? Is there such a thing as too much sleep? Will they ever sleep through the night? Will you ever sleep through the night again?
Today, we’re going to look at sleep safety from birth to childhood, to help you navigate these early years with less stress.
Safe sleep from birth to 3 months old
Taking care of a baby involves planning and logistics. Let’s look at all aspects of safe infant sleep.
Experts, paediatricians and scientists all recommend putting babies to sleep on their backs from birth until they are mobile and able to roll over on their own. This has been shown to reduce the instance of SIDS drastically, increasing sleep safety enormously.
Babies should have a safe sleeping surface prepared at their home or daycare. It should be a firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet, and there should be no blankets, soft toys, or bumpers around the edges. This is to prevent your baby from smothering themselves. Babies don’t need pillows, so don’t worry to include one of those either.
It is recommended that very young babies share a bedroom with their caregiver during the night. This helps to reduce sleep deaths, as caregivers are naturally aware of their baby and are more easily and quickly roused if there is a problem.
Recommendations around co-sleeping are mixed. Older research warns against it, as it can cause babies to overheat, be rolled upon, or otherwise suffer and die in bed. However, new research shows that safe bed-sharing and safe co-sleeping has been practised among many cultures for thousands of years, and can increase the likelihood of successful breastfeeding, among other benefits. If you wish to co-sleep or bed-share with your baby, we’d recommend chatting to your paediatrician first.
Daytime naps are important for infants and children right up to preschool age. For infants, the same guidelines for night sleep should be followed for naps. Use the acronym ABC to remember: babies should sleep alone, on their backs, in a clear crib. Babies should not be left to sleep in prams or car seats unattended, but sleeping in a baby carrier is fine as long as their airways are unobstructed and you are alert.
From three months
At this stage, you can decide whether to continue sharing a room with your baby or if you want to move them to a room of their own. If by this stage your baby can roll over and does while sleeping, you can leave them as they are. But you should still put them to sleep on their backs.
Transitioning from cot to bed
The timing for the transition from cot to bed will depend on many factors, not least of which is your child’s readiness to move. For most babies, this happens sometime between the ages of two and three-and-a-half years old. It generally isn’t wise to transition a toddler out of their crib when they are younger than 18 months old, as they often just aren’t ready for it.
Here are a few guidelines to look out for to assess your child’s readiness to move to a bed:
How to transition safely
The crib is a safe, high-sided bed that’s hard to fall out of. By contrast, even a toddler bed has much more freedom. Professionals generally recommend either having the bed very close to the ground — like a floor bed — or adding guardrails to a standard bed. For the first few nights, you could also consider throwing a few pillows down on the floor, just in case of a tumble.
Some parents also add a baby gate to the bedroom door, to keep kids in their rooms during the night, and prevent them from getting into trouble in the larger house at night. However, if you are also expecting your child to be able to get up to go to the toilet during the night, that won’t work. If you want to use a baby security gate, you could put a potty into their room at night.
If your child is able to get out of their room at night, make sure that all furniture is safely anchored to the wall, and that all electrical outlets are covered. If your house has stairs, make sure to install a safety gate to keep your child from tumbling down them during the night.
In order for our babies and children to sleep safely, just remember your ABCs. Your baby should sleep on a sleep surface alone, on their back, at least at first, and in a clear crib. Transition your toddler to a bigger bed only when they are ready, and don’t try to rush the process. Make sure that your house — and their room, now that they can access it — is safe, with all furniture anchored and all plugs covered.