My baby and safe sleeping—what should I bear in mind?

When babies sleep safely, moms and dads sleep, too. But how can you be sure that your baby is sleeping safely? We talked to Dr. Mark Brandenburg, an emergency medicine physician and child safety expert who is also author of the book Baby Safe. He shares his recommendations on safe sleeping for babies.

Why is sleep so important?

Your baby’s sleep time is critical for growth and development, and all parents know that this is the best time for them to get a peaceful, relaxing break. There are two fundamental safe sleeping components for a baby less than twelve months old: position and environment.

Should babies sleep on their back or tummy?

By far, the safest sleeping position for a baby is on their back. Safe to Sleep (originally Back to Sleep) is a US campaign that was launched twenty-five years ago urging parents to place sleeping babies on their backs. Since then, cases of Sudden Infant Death syndrome (SIDS) have decreased by 50%. My recommendation, therefore, is to ensure that your baby sleeps on a safe, firm and flat surface until they are at least twelve months old.

What exactly is a safe sleeping environment for a baby?

A good quality baby crib or cradle is the safest sleeping environment for your baby. Place the crib so that furniture, curtains, venetian blind cords, etc., are well out of the baby’s reach.

Which crib mattress and mattress cover should I use?

The two most important qualities in a crib mattress are its firmness and fit. The mattress should fit snugly against each side of the crib so the baby can’t crawl beneath it or get stuck in a gap between the mattress and the sides of the crib. If you can fit two fingers between the side of the crib and the mattress, the mattress is too small. Make sure the mattress cover is made of a durable material and fits tightly around the mattress.

What about pillows, blankets and cuddly toys?

A baby doesn’t need as many accessories in their crib as we adults like to think. Many parents use a pillow and blanket, but all your baby really needs is a soother and possibly a cozy sleeping bag. This will usually suffice to keep a baby warm while sleeping. You should avoid putting blankets, crib bumpers, pillows, quilts, soft toys and teddies in your baby’s crib.

Is it safe to co-sleep with my baby?

The safest sleep environment for your baby is in a crib or cradle close to your bed; it is unsafe for your baby to share your bed. By all means let your baby sleep in your bedroom but sleeping in the same bed as the parents is not recommended. Never drink alcohol or take drugs, sleeping pills or other medicine that makes you drowsy if you should decide to co-sleep with your baby.

Mark Brandenburg, MD, MSc is a practicing acute-care physician and epidemiologist in Oklahoma. He is also Chief Medical Officer of Bristow Medical Center hospitals and has received an Epidemiology Master of Science degree from the University of London. He and his wife, Kelly, have two boys who long ago outgrew their cribs. Dr. Brandenburg has authored two parenting books on infant and child safety and published over twenty-five medical papers on emergency medicine and injury epidemiology. He draws upon his experience as a physician, researcher, and father.