Decision-making is a crucial aspect of becoming a parent. New parents have to deal with numerous tough decisions, and one of them would be whether or not to let your baby sleep with you. You might have already decided your baby’s place of sleep, but some babies might insist on sleeping with you!
Scroll through any social media feed, and you’re bound to come across at least one adorable pic of a newborn-parent duo snoozing chest-to-chest. As a new mom, we love holding my babes close, feeling their tiny hearts beating in tandem with ours. There’s no doubt this creates a sacred bond with your baby—but is it safe?
There’s a lot of confusion about sleep safety when it comes to newborns. Let’s go over the most common questions so you can make the best choice for your family.
Should Infants Be Allowed to Sleep on Your Chest?
Newborn babies should not be allowed to sleep on your chest because this increases the chances of tragedies like SIDS. It is best to establish a rule of not letting your baby sleep on your chest. Letting your baby sleep on your chest, or co-sleeping might seem like a very good way for you to bond with your child, but it can be dangerous. You might be rocking the baby to sleep, but as soon as you lay him, he might wake up. This is why many people let them fall asleep on their chest or co-sleep, but it can be really dangerous for the baby. Apart from increasing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), it also increases the risk of accidents or suffocation.
Is it Safe to Sleep With My Baby on My Chest?
Holding your baby skin-to-skin is such a powerful bonding experience that it’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for up to an hour after birth. Beyond this time, it’s still considered safe with one exception—you must be awake. The AAP warns that falling asleep while your baby is sleeping on you greatly increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
How and Where Should a Newborn Sleep?
According to the AAP, the safest place for newborns to sleep is on a firm surface in their parent’s bedroom. To reduce the risk of SIDS, babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep. Cribs, bassinets, portable cribs, and play yards are all recommended as long as they are free from soft objects like bedding, bumpers, blankets, and toys.
What Can You Do If Your Baby Wants to Sleep on Your Chest?
You should try swaddling your baby if you had not already done this before. He was living in your womb for so many months that he is used to the snug and comforting feeling. Wrapping your baby or swaddling him will help replicate that amazing feeling, which will help your baby sleep well.
Some babies find the crib to be ‘vast’ to sleep properly. This could be another reason why infants prefer sleeping on their parent’s chest. For many families, bed-sharing or co-sleeping might is an option, and you can use a Dock-A-Tot, an in-bed co-sleeper to help your baby sleep with you safely. This way, you will be able to share your bed safely with your baby.
Zip a dee-Zip
If your baby is more than four months old or if swaddling the baby is not working, then you could try using a swaddle transition product like Zipadee-Zip. This is useful when the baby’s Moro reflex is still strong.
Many families try this ‘Rock-N-Play’ method when their babies are young. If the baby is younger than four years old, then this method might be really helpful for you. However, there are chances that your baby might face problems later since he will be accustomed to sleeping using the Rock-N-Play technique. But note that this method is not considered to be the safest of all the other sleep surfaces since it is not flat and firm. You should check with your doctor if you feel like there is not enough space for the baby to sleep.
Heartbeat While Noise
The sound of your heartbeat might be one of the reasons your baby might like to sleep on your chest. If it is the mom’s chest the baby is sleeping on, then it was your heartbeat the baby listened to for many months. So, you could consider using the white noise machine that has the heartbeat sound. This might not be the ultimate miracle solution, but it might help to a certain extent.
If your baby is older than four months, then you could try sleep training him. You baby will be capable of sleeping on another surface since he does not know the difference or that there is something wrong with it. Many babies need to learn how to sleep well independently in other spaces.
It is advised not to co-sleep or let your baby sleep on your chest if either you or your partner smoke or consume alcohol. You should not do it even when you are extremely tired or if the baby was born prematurely. It is best to make him sleep in a crib without any blankets or pillows, so the risk of suffocation is reduced. The best way for parents who want to be with their babies while sleeping is to sleep in the same room with them. Place the crib beside you so that he is near you, and this way, you are also decreasing the chances of SIDS.
Helping Babies Sleep Safely
There are about 3,500 sleep-related deaths among US babies each year. CDC supports the updated 2016 recommendations for external icon issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to reduce the risk of all sleep-related infant deaths, including SIDS. See How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained External icon to learn more about these and other actions.
Parents and caregivers can help create a safe sleep area for babies by taking the following steps:
- Place your baby on his or her back for all sleep times—naps and at night. Even if a baby spits up during sleep, babies’ anatomy external icon and gag reflex help prevent them from choking while sleeping on their backs. Babies who sleep on their backs are much less likely to die of SIDS than babies who sleep on their sides or stomachs.
- Use a firm, flat sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib external icon covered only by a fitted sheet. Some parents and caretakers might feel they should place their baby on a soft surface to help them be more comfortable while sleeping. However, soft surfaces can increase the risk of sleep-related death. A firm sleep surface helps reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation.
- Keep your baby’s sleep area (for example, a crib or bassinet) in the same room where you sleep until your baby is at least six months old, or ideally until your baby is one year old. Accidental suffocation or strangulation can happen when a baby is sleeping in an adult bed or other unsafe sleep surfaces. Sharing a room with your baby is much safer than bed sharing and may decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%. Placing the crib close to your bed so that the baby is within view and reach can also help make it easier to feed, comfort, and monitor your baby.
- Keep soft bedding such as blankets, pillows, bumper pads, and soft toys out of your baby’s sleep area. Additionally, do not cover your baby’s head or allow your baby to get too hot. Some parents may feel they should add sheets or blankets to their baby’s crib to help keep their baby warm and comfortable while sleeping. However, sheets, comforters, and blankets can increase the risk of suffocation or overheat your baby. If you’re worried about your baby getting cold during sleep, you can dress them in sleep clothing, like a wearable blanket. In a recent Pediatrics report external icon, CDC scientists and colleagues found that infant suffocation deaths during sleep were most frequently due to soft bedding, such as blankets and pillows.
Babies should sleep in a bare crib.
An astounding 73 per cent of moms in our survey say they have placed at least one item inside the crib with their baby. A blanket was most common (59 per cent), followed by bumpers (35 per cent), stuffed animals (23 per cent), and pillows (8 per cent). All are suffocation hazards for babies one and younger and can increase the risk of SIDS up to five times, regardless of Baby’s sleep position, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Moms sometimes get a mixed message. “When women walk through a baby store or flip through a catalogue or magazine, they see bumpers, blankets, and stuffed animals, and they think they need to buy them to be good parents.
When setting up your little one’s crib, always remember that bare is best. The only thing you should have in the crib is a fitted sheet. No pillows, no stuffed animals, no sleep positioners or sleep wedges (they pose the same suffocation hazards as pillows), and no crib bumpers, which have been linked to suffocation and strangling of infants.
Always put your baby down to sleep on her back.
Twenty-eight per cent of moms say they have put their baby to sleep on his stomach, a practice that leaves babies at increased risk for SIDS. And of those who take this risk, 47 per cent do it before their baby turns three months old. That’s when the risk of SIDS is highest, in the first four months, associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night.
Many of these parents are what we’d call “conscientious objectors. They think that what they’re doing is somehow better or safer than what their pediatrician is telling them.” Parents who are desperate not to hear their baby cry, for example, may find ways to rationalize stomach-sleeping. It’s true, and babies do wake up more easily when they’re on their back. But that may protect them from SIDS. Infants who sleep on their stomach don’t arouse as well, which means they can get in trouble with their oxygen levels and never wake up.”
Another common justification for stomach-sleeping (for 10 per cent of the rule-breakers) was worry that Baby would choke from reflux. No evidence supports this. Stomach-sleeping is riskier than back-sleeping when it comes to choking concerns.
To ensure safe sleep for babies, make back-sleeping non-negotiable. “The only way you’re going to teach your baby to sleep on his back is to teach your baby to sleep on his back. It’s the same thing as an infant who hates to be in his car seat. He has to be in his car seat.
Be careful with co-sleeping.
Co-sleeping, defined as sleeping on the same surface with Baby, is common, Dr Mindell says. Sixty-five per cent of the moms we polled have slept in bed with their infant, and of those, 38 per cent do so regularly. The majority of these bedsharing moms worry about their baby’s risk of accidental suffocation, but they do it anyway. Why? To help their child sleep, to make nursing easier, to bond with Baby, and because Baby won’t sleep anywhere else, they say.
But bed-sharing is perilous. Studies show that about half of all suffocation deaths among infants happen in an adult bed. Compared with sleeping in a crib, the overall death rate is more than 40 times higher for babies who sleep with a parent. There are multiple dangers in an adult bed that can suffocate Baby, from a less-firm mattress and big pillows to fluffy comforters and extra blankets. Parents also mistakenly believe they’re light sleepers and would wake up if they rolled over on their baby, but that’s not the case in so many tragic instances.
The safest option is putting Baby to sleep in a portable crib in your room. Then, when she’s used to that, move her to a crib in her room. Not only will she be safe, she’ll snooze more deeply. “In one study I conducted, we found that babies who sleep with Mom and Dad wake up twice as often than when they sleep alone. They don’t learn to soothe themselves, and that’s what keeps them up.
Never sleep on the couch with your baby.
A staggering 53 per cent of moms in our poll report they share the couch with their infant, a number that astonished our experts. It’s by far the most dangerous choice because couches can be softer and plusher than an adult bed, and Mom or Dad could accidentally roll over and suffocate Baby. Ironically, some parents think couch-sharing is relatively safe because if they put Baby between their body and the back of the couch, she can’t fall off as she could in a bed. In reality, the child can become trapped between the parent’s body and the couch, and that can be much more dangerous.
As a safety upgrade, bond with your baby before bed, and then put her in her crib. When you’re wiped out or if it’s nighttime, avoid nursing or feeding your baby on the couch. You’re more apt to doze off there than in a less comfy spot. If your sweetie falls asleep and you’re tempted to snuggle her while you browse your Netflix queue, think twice.
Finally, never place a sleeping baby on a couch. About 18 per cent of moms say their baby has slept on a couch alone, but even if you’re awake, it’s never safe. It takes only a minute for suffocation to occur.
Follow these sleep guidelines for naps, too.
As we pored through the comments in our study, one thread stood out: Many moms who wouldn’t dream of putting their baby on his stomach at nighttime do so at naptime. “Parents think that since they’re up and about, they’re watching their baby. But the reality is, you’re in the kitchen, you’re on the computer, and if your baby is having a hard time breathing, it’s silence.”
Research also shows that a baby who is used to sleeping on his back but is periodically put on his belly to snooze is 18 times more likely to die from SIDS. Experts aren’t sure why, but one theory is that babies who nod off on their back most of the time develop motor skills differently and can’t lift their head as easily when they’re on their stomach, which puts them at risk for asphyxiation.
Where’s the Safest Place for Your Baby to Sleep?
Ask anyone how much sleep you’re likely to get after your baby is born, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: “Not much.” But ask where your baby should sleep, and you’ll probably get several different answers. Even professionals can’t agree. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents not to take their babies with them to sleep at night on the same sleeping surface (called “bed-sharing”) due to the belief that this increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The AAP recommends that babies have a separate but nearby place to sleep, such as a crib or bassinet in the parents’ bedroom for at least the first six months and, optimally, for the first year. No research is available to support the notion that it’s safer for babies to sleep alone, or that those who do become more independent than babies who sleep with their parents.
Skin-to-Skin & Rooming In
Since the beginning of time, parents have needed and wanted their new babies close to them. Today we know that this yearning for closeness is a physiological need shared by you and your baby. Studies have shown that newborns who are placed skin-to-skin on your chest right after birth will adjust more easily to life outside the womb, stay warmer, cry less and breastfeed sooner than if your baby is separated from you.
The AAP and Lamaze recommend skin-to-skin care immediately following birth for at least an hour as soon as you are medically stable and awake. Your baby must stay as close to you as possible in the days following birth also. Rooming-in with your baby on a separate sleeping surface, such as a bassinet or crib, allows you to learn your newborn’s needs as well as how to best care for, soothe and comfort them. Rooming-in also offers the best start for breastfeeding. The nearer your baby is to you, the sooner you will make more milk and the more likely you are to breastfeed longer and exclusively. (Experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding—no other foods or liquids—during the first six months of life.)
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It’s newborn sleep safety that should concern you most. Always put your baby on their back when you lay them down on a firm surface. This is the best-known SIDS prevention tactic. Keep the bedroom at a temperature you find comfortable when lightly clothed, and dress your baby for sleep the same way. Overheating can be dangerous. Their crib, bassinet or cradle should meet current safety standards and be free of soft bedding, crib bumpers, blankets and plush toys, which are suffocation hazards.