Safe Sleep for Babies. What’s the Deal?


What is SIDS?

SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (previously known as Cot Death) is a sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of a baby who was otherwise healthy. It most commonly occurs when a baby is sleeping and is thought to be due to a combination of factors.

Safe Sleep Guide

The safest place for your baby to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS is in their own sleep space such as a Moses basket, crib, cot bed or next to me crib within their parents’ room for the first six months of life. A firm flat mattress is essential with a clean fitted sheet. Their bed space should always be clear with no soft toys, pods, nests, cot bumpers, pillows or heavy bedding as these could increase the risk of suffocation, strangulation or overheating.

Babies should always be placed on their back and foot-to-foot in their bed space. A cellular blanket folded in 2-4 layers depending on the season and warmth of your home (always placed under baby’s arms and tucked into the sides and foot of the crib) or a sleeping bag can be used as to keep baby warm at night.

The optimum temperature for your home for safe sleep is between 16-20 degrees Celsius. To check baby’s temperature you can place your hand on the inside of their clothing on their chest. They should feel comfortably warm and not sweaty, clammy or cool to touch.  It’s important not to use little hands, feet or noses as a temperature guide as these are always a little chilly but are not an accurate indicator of baby’s core temperature where their important organs such as their heart and lungs are.

Co-Sleeping vs Bed-Sharing?

However, in infancy, it is known that some babies settle much better when they are in close proximity to their caregivers and after all, having spent 40 weeks tucked safely inside your uterus a cold Moses basket is less than inviting for some of our new additions! The term co-sleeping is quite confusing and midwives would advise that if choosing to sleep with your baby the safest choice would always be in an adult bed. Therefore we will refer to this as ‘bed-sharing’.

UNICEF estimates that of the 680,000 babies born in England and Wales each year 340,000 of them will have slept together in an adult bed with one or both parents by 3 months of age whether intentional or not. On any night around 22% of babies will sleep in bed with a parent which equates to 149,000 babies in bed with a parent tonight!

SIDS research shows that around half of SIDS deaths occurred in a cot or Moses basket whilst the other half occurred whilst a baby was co-sleeping. However, 90% of these babies died in a hazardous situation which could have been largely preventable.

So what is considered a hazardous situation?

For our little babies co-sleeping on a sofa or armchair, co-sleeping with a parent who has consumed drugs or alcohol or co-sleeping with a parent who is a regular smoker all significantly increases the risk of SIDS. If any of these apply to either parent then it is advised that you avoid bed-sharing completely.

Some other times when it is recommended that bed-sharing should be avoided are if your baby was premature (born before 37 weeks) or a low birth weight (less than 2.5kg).

Are there any benefits to Bed-Sharing?

Young babies wake frequently throughout the night to feed and be cared for and also for the warmth and security of their parents. It can be quite easy to become scared of falling asleep with your baby in bed and to opt for the sofa or to sit up in bed with your baby which could inadvertently increase the risk to your baby.  The sofa or armchair can increase the risk of suffocation and overheating and babies can easily slip into positions which can because their airway to become blocked. Mums who are breastfeeding may benefit from having baby close to them in bed to be able to feed their babies responsively and to be able to get some much needed sleep also. In this way, bed-sharing may help some mothers to continue their breastfeeding journey and also gain some much needed rest!

How to make your Bedspace as safe as possible

If you are concerned that you may fall asleep in bed with your baby it can be helpful to prepare your bedspace so that it can be as safe as possible in case you do fall asleep intentionally or not.

  • Removing all loose blankets, duvets and pillows which could be a risk of suffocation or overheating.
  • Putting baby in a sleeping bag may be useful to help reduce the need for loose blankets on the bed.
  • Baby should always still sleep on their back
  • Avoid having baby sleep between parents as this can increase over heating or
  • Avoid allowing older children or family pets to also bed-share at the same time
  • Ensure baby cannot fall off the bed or become trapped between the wall and the bed
  • Most mothers will curve their body protectively around their baby as in the image below 

How do I choose a sleeping bag?

Choosing a good well-fitting sleeping bag for your baby is also really important if opting for a sleeping bag rather than loose blankets. The sleeping bag should come with instructions on how to use it. There should also be different sizes or weight guides so that the sleeping bag fits well. Baby should never be able to slip their head completely through the neck hole – if this is the case the sleeping bag is too big and should not be used. Additionally the arm holes should be snug but not tight and baby should not be able to pull their arms into the main body of the sleeping bag. You can choose a tog (thickness and warmth) which is suitable for the season and the warmth of your home and dress baby appropriately underneath so that they do not overheat.


The Lullaby Trust Co-sleeping Advice

UNICEF Caring For Your Baby at Night Leaflet

Which? Dangerous Sleeping Bags

Learn more about Safe Sleep for FREE!

Our Expert Midwives educate thousands of expectant parents every month about safe sleep as well as how to bath, change and dress, care for your baby’s skin, nail and cord among several other important topics to help first-time parents care for their newborn. Sign up to our FREE Baby Care Workshop and become confident in all things baby care!