Sleep is most parents’ first separation from their baby. And for many this elicits anxiety. I am sure the scene of a mother crouching over her sleeping baby to hear if he is breathing is familiar to most parents. We do this because of the terrible scare of cot death. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the shocking circumstance when a parent finds their sleeping baby dead and medical science can offer no reason for the death. It leaves parent’s grieving and seeking answers for their entire life. Until recently in the developed world, SIDS was the leading cause of death in healthy babies under a year of age. Since 1983 the number of deaths due to SIDS has halved to around 2500 deaths a year in the USA. Even though the odds of a cot death are low, it is wise to put your baby to sleep safely to limit the chances of SIDS.
Where should your baby sleep?The debate on co-sleeping rages on, with options polarized on where the best place for babies to sleep is. A significant body of literature indicates that co-sleeping is associated with an increased risk of cot death. This research has shown that there is an increased risk of cot SIDS when parents sleep with their baby in their bed. On the other hand, there is also a very vocal body of parent advisors who advocate co-sleeping as the natural and safe place for a baby to sleep. This research shows that there is a greater chance of breastfeeding being well established with co-sleeping and that babies do well not being separated from their mother. What is clear is that if you choose to co-sleep with your baby, you must do so safely.
Co-sleeping safely:If you choose to co-sleep, follow these guidelines to limit the risk of SIDS
- Your baby must sleep on her back.
- Do not have a pillow near your baby.
- Do not cover your baby with your duvet, or use an electric blanket or hot water bottle.
- Place your baby on the outside of the bed next to you, not between you and your partner.
- Have a sleep nest that creates a space for your baby in your bed.
- Do not co-sleep if your baby is exposed to cigarette smoke during the day.
- Do not drink alcohol or take any form of pain medication before bedtime. If you have had a Caesarean section and are taking painkillers it is wiser to let your baby sleep next to you in a crib.
Features of a safe sleep space:The most critical aspects of a safe sleep zone are that there is no risk of overheating or suffocation. Follow these guidelines to decrease the risk of SIDS:
- Your baby must sleep on his back or on his side with a wedge. A sleep wedge prevents babies from rolling onto their tummies. The only time a baby should sleep on his tummy is with severe cases of reflux and certain airway malformations, such as Robin syndrome. The ‘back to sleep’ position is particularly important for the first 6 months.
- The mattress must be firm and NO pillows or blankets or duvets should be in the cot at all for the first year. Loose blankets and pillows provide a risk for suffocation if they cover the baby’s face. Under 4 months, firmly swaddle your baby and after four-five months, the only safe cover for a baby is an infant sleeping bag.
- Do not overheat your baby’s room or over cover your baby. The perfect temperature for your baby’s room is 21 degrees Celsius. If the room is warmer, don’t cover your baby with extra blankets. DO NOT use polyester or synthetic fabrics or sleeping bags filled with polyester as these fabrics and fillers do not allow regulation of body temperature.