Protect your baby by heeding the latest guidelines for safe slumber.
By Stacy Whitman
It’s hard to believe, but a baby spends more time asleep than awake during his first year of life. And you’d think there would be no safer place for him than a crib or bed. Yet each year, thousands of American babies die after being put to sleep in one by a loving parent or trusted caregiver.
Twenty years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending that babies be positioned on their backs at bedtime to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Since then, SIDS rates have decreased by more than 50 percent. Yet SIDS remains the leading cause of death for infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. And the number succumbing to other sleep-related causes, such as strangulation, asphyxiation and suffocation, has risen dramatically.
You can significantly reduce the risk to your child by taking some simple precautions (and making sure his other caregivers do, too!), says Rachel Moon, MD, a pediatrician, SIDS researcher and lead author of the AAP’s newly updated guidelines for sleep safety.
One of the major changes in the AAP’s recommendations involves those adorable bumper pads that adorn countless cribs. While cute-looking, they have been linked to a number of accidental infant deaths, prompting the AAP and other authorities to say they shouldn’t be used. Because of the risks, the city of Chicago recently banned the sale of crib bumpers, and the state of Maryland has proposed the same ban. More local and state governments are expected to follow suit.
Another commonly used crib product that has gotten the official ax is the infant sleep positioner. Over the past 13 years, as many as 12 infants (ages 1 to 4 months) have suffocated because of it, says the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). Your baby’s crib should be free of all soft objects and loose bedding (such as pillows, blankets and plush toys) because they could lead to suffocation.
Cribs with certain characteristics also can pose risks. Drop-side rails, for example, have been blamed in the deaths of at least 32 babes in the last decade, according to the CPSC. This is why (as of last June 2011) cribs with this feature are no longer being manufactured and sold in the U.S. Before purchasing any crib, you should be sure it meets the safety standards of the CPSC, the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association and the ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials), the AAP says. It’s better to use a new crib, if possible, as older ones may not meet new safety standards and are more likely to have missing parts or be assembled incorrectly. If you plan to use a secondhand crib, examine it closely to make sure it’s in good working condition (no loose components or broken slats). Contact the manufacturer, check the CPSC website (cpsc.gov) or call the CPSC recall hotline (800-638-2772) to determine whether it has any safety issues. (For some safe bedding products, see “Smart Sleep Accessories.”)
Moon sums it up perfectly: “The safest sleeping environment for infants is in a safety-approved crib with a firm mattress and tight-fitting sheet, with the baby sleeping on his back.” Follow her advice (and our tips at right), and your baby should rest easy—as will you! n
A mother of three, freelance writer Stacy Whitman is a frequent contributor to new parent.com
Safe Sleep Tips
- Place your infant on a firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet with no pillows, blankets or other loose bedding.
- On cold nights, dress your baby in a wearable blanket or sleep sack instead of covering him with a blanket. (Be sure it fits!)
- Always put your baby to sleep on his back at naptime and nighttime.
- Use a safety-approved crib with a fixed rail.
- Keep stuffed animals out of the crib.
- Don’t use a bumper pad.
- Put your baby’s crib or bassinet in your bedroom—it could reduce his risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
- Don’t ever let your baby sleep in your bed, especially before she’s 3 months old.
- Never place the crib near a window with a blind or curtain cord that could strangle her.
- Keep the room temperature comfortable for a lightly dressed adult. Don’t let your baby get overheated; if she feels hot to the touch, remove a layer of clothing or lower the thermostat.
- Never, ever smoke in or near your baby’s sleeping quarters.
- Consider breastfeeding: Babies who nurse are less likely to die from SIDS.
- Offer her a pacifier at naptime and bedtime (but not until she’s a month old if she’s being breastfed)—it can decrease SIDS risk by 50 to 60 percent.
- Get her immunized: It could cut her SIDS risk in half.
- Provide supervised tummy time to help strengthen your baby’s neck and back muscles.