The average human being spends approximately ⅓ of their lives sleeping. While the pattern of a newborn’s sleep can vary drastically in the first few months, almost 40% of their childhood will be spent asleep. This is an important time as it encourages a happier disposition (think of how grumpy YOU are when you don’t get enough sleep!) which then impacts learning, memory and general development. Sleep is a subject that can vary slightly from child to child, but the one thing we can all agree on is that keeping your child safe during this essential time is of the utmost importance.
It’s a parent’s worst fear. SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), also known as Cot Death, affects approximately 250 babies and toddlers each year in the UK.* This is the sudden and unexplained death of a young child where no cause is found after the fact. Over the past few decades the number of children who have suffered from SIDS has dropped drastically as increased research has been done and more parents are taking preventative measures.
While certain circumstances put children at a higher risk, guidelines that should be followed without fail in the first 6-12 months include:
Temperature – The ideal room temperature for a child is between 16 and 20 degrees celsius. Remember to take into account the temperature set in the room, as well as the amount of bedding/clothing in the cot. Keeping the cot away from radiators and sunny windows will also keep the area from being warmer than it should be.
Sleep position – Babies should always sleep on their backs. While tummy time is necessary for development down the line, it should only be done during times when the child is awake and has developed stronger neck and back muscles. Their feet should be at the end of the cot to prevent them from wriggling under covers.
Excess Bedding/Accessories – While babies may receive all sorts of soft toys, blankets and other things when they are born, these things have no place in a cot. They pose suffocation risks and may add to the chance of overheating as well. Keep the toys for playtime and blankets for cuddling. Sleeping bags are useful options for your baby as they stay cosy but do not have the risk of excess bedding.
Extra accessories like mobiles and other dangling toys should be removed once children are able to crawl/move around more as they can use them to pull themselves up and possibly out of the cot.
*Credit: Office of National Statistics, 2016
For the first few months (up to 6mths), the safest place for your baby to sleep tends to be in your room but not in your bed. A moses basket is acceptable up to about 3 months, then a cot becomes necessary. While design and look may be important to you, it is crucial that the cot is up to British safety standards (BSEN716). While you may want, due to budget or otherwise, want to purchase a second hand cot, you must make sure that all cots are suitable to the following:
- Cot bars should be vertical and no more than 6.5cm apart to prevent getting stuck/using the bars like a ladder.
- There should be at least 50cm between the top of the mattress and the top of the bars at the mattresses highest position to ensure children cannot climb out when they are able to pull themselves up.
- A cot with bars on all four sides is sometimes recommended for ease of airflow and temperature management.
- It’s generally suggested that a new mattress is purchased (even with a second hand cot) for hygienic reasons and it should be firm and fit in the cot tightly without gaps.
- The mattress should be easy to clean by either using a wipe-clean cover, mattress protector, or machine washable top cover that can be washed at a high temperature.
- Thickness-wise, make sure the mattress is no thinner than 10cm as it should be firm but still comfortable.
- Make sure the bedding is made from breathable, lightweight materials like cotton.
- Keep toys, pillows and duvets out of the cot for at least the first year.
- Remove cot bumper pads as they tend to cause more harm (excess ties, puffiness can cause strangulation/suffocation) than help.
- Be certain that sheets fit tightly around mattress so they will not come loose in the night.
- If you choose to use a blanket, pick a thin one that is tucked under the mattress at the sides and footing so it is secure. Tuck it under their arms so they are free to move and it’s no higher than their chest.
- Use flannel sheets in the winter to keep warm as opposed to a heavy blanket.
- In lieu of excess bedding, clothing such as sleepers, sleep sacks and wearable blankets are far safer options.
A safe sleep comes along naturally with a safe environment and there are a few steps you can take to ensure you provide this for your little one.
- Ensure room where baby is sleeping is (always) smoke free.
- Don’t put your baby down to sleep on soft surfaces, particularly adult beds, couches, pillows and cushions.
Keeping our children safe can be a daunting task. Taking the above precautions and doing a bit of research into the products you choose to use will lower the stresses and give both parents and babies a pleasant sleep experience. Remember that, to encourage sleep routine, establish guidelines and rules for sleep whenever your child is in someone else’s care (even Nan and Pop’s!). Routine builds trust and helps develop healthy sleep habits which will be useful as they grow older.