It’s a big decision for any parent to make, but how can you decide where your baby should sleep? The answer is different for every family.
Some parents choose to have their babies sleep in the same room because it allows them peace of mind knowing they’re close by if anything happens.
Other families prefer to put the baby’s crib in one room and allow them that independence while still being nearby if needed.
Many factors come into play when deciding what will be best for your baby.
How Long Will My Newborn Sleep?
Newborns wake every couple of hours to eat. Breastfed babies often feed about every 2–3 hours. Bottle-fed babies tend to provide less frequently, about every 3–4 hours.
Newborns who sleep for longer stretches should be awakened to feed.
Wake your baby every 3–4 hours to eat until they show good weight gain, usually within the first couple of weeks.
After that, it’s OK to let your baby sleep for more extended periods at night.
The first months of a baby’s life can be the hardest for parents, who might get up many times at night to tend to the baby.
Each baby has a different sleep pattern. Some start to sleep “through the night” (for 5–6 hours at a time) by 2–3 months of age, but some don’t.
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How Should Babies Sleep?
During the first weeks of a baby’s life, some parents choose to room-share.
Room-sharing is when you place your baby’s crib, portable crib, play yard, or bassinet in your bedroom instead of in a separate nursery.
This keeps the baby nearby and helps with feeding, comforting, and monitoring at night. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends room-sharing without bed-sharing.
While room-sharing is safe, putting your infant to sleep in bed with you is not. Bed-sharing increases the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and other sleep-related deaths.
Follow these recommendations for a safe sleep environment for your little one:
- Always place your baby on their back to sleep, not on the stomach or side. The rate of SIDS has gone way down since the AAP introduced this recommendation in 1992.
- Use a firm sleep surface. Cover the mattress with a sheet that fits snugly. Make sure your crib, bassinet, or play yard meets current safety standards.
- Do not put anything else in the crib or bassinet. Keep plush toys, pillows, blankets, unfitted sheets, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, and bumper pads out of your baby’s sleep area.
- Avoid overheating. Dress your infant for room temperature, and don’t over the bundle. Watch for signs of overheating, such as sweating or feeling hot to the touch.
- Keep your baby away from smokers. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS.
- Put your baby to sleep with a pacifier. But if your baby rejects the pacifier, don’t force it. If the pacifier falls out during sleep, you don’t have to replace it. If you’re breastfeeding, wait until breastfeeding is firmly established.
Best Places for a Baby to Safely Sleep
While you should share your room with your baby, that doesn’t mean sharing your bed. The safest way to sleep with your baby is for parents to share their room (but not their bed) for the first six months to a year of life.
They note that room-sharing may reduce the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%. By not sharing the same bed as the parents, the risk of accidental suffocation is diminished.
Car Seat Precautions
While a newborn or young infant won’t necessarily pick up any bad habits by sleeping in a car seat, it isn’t the safest place for them to be sleeping.
One study on SIDS cases found that a tiny percentage of infants who died were seated in car seats. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put your baby in a car seat when driving in the car. However, you likely should find a more appropriate place for your baby to sleep.
The points to consider are:
- Eventually, your baby will likely get used to sleeping in a car seat, swing, or wherever else you put her to sleep. Stick to the AAP recommendations and put your baby to sleep in her bassinet, cradle, or crib.
- Infants in a car seat for too long can also be at higher risk of developing positional plagiocephaly or a flat head.
- The main reason to avoid putting your baby to sleep in a car seat is a minimal association with SIDS.
What Is Safe Sleep?
Safe sleep means putting your baby to sleep in ways that can help protect him from dangers, like choking and suffocation (not being able to breathe) and sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS).
SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than one-year-old. SIDS usually happens when a baby is sleeping. It’s sometimes called crib death because the baby often dies in his crib.
How Much Sleep Does Your Baby Need?
Newborns sleep about 16 hours a day, usually in 3- to 4-hour periods. Your baby needs to eat every few hours, which is why she doesn’t sleep for more extended periods. Your baby may get cranky or overtired if she doesn’t get enough sleep.
Don’t be surprised if your baby can only stay awake for an hour or two. Over time, her body gets into a sleep pattern.
She starts sleeping for longer stretches, even during the night. If you’re worried about your baby’s sleep, talk to her health care provider.
Where Should Your Baby Sleep?
The safest place for your baby to sleep is by herself in a bassinet or crib. If you have multiples (twins, triplets or more), put each baby in his bassinet or crib.
Here are some dos and don’ts about making your baby’s sleep space safe:
Do put your baby to sleep on his back on a flat, firm surface, like a crib mattress covered with a tightly fitted sheet. Use only the bed made for your baby’s crib.
The mattress should fit snugly in the crib, so there are no spaces between the bed and the crib frame.
The mattress shape should stay firm even when covered with a tightly fitted sheet or mattress cover.
Do put your baby to bed in his crib or bassinet. Don’t bed-share. This is when babies and parents sleep together in the same bed.
Bed-sharing is the most common cause of death in babies younger than three months old. Keep your baby’s crib close to your bed so your baby’s nearby during the night.
You and your baby are recommended to sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed, for the first year of your baby’s life but at least for the first six months.
Do make sure your baby’s bassinet, crib or play yard meets current safety standards. Visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to learn more about product safety standards or product recalls.
Do remove hanging window cords or electrical wires near where your baby sleeps. Babies can get tangled in them and choke.
Do keep the room at a comfortable temperature. If your baby is sweating or his chest feels hot, he may be overheated.
Don’t use sleep positioners. These sometimes are called nests or anti-roll pillows. They often are mats or wedges with pillows on either side to help keep your baby in place. The Food and Drug Administration warns that sleep positioners can cause babies to die because of suffocation.
Don’t let your baby sleep in a carrier, sling, car seat or stroller. Babies who sleep in these items can suffocate. If your baby falls asleep in one, take her out and put her in her crib as soon as you can.
Don’t put your baby to sleep on soft surfaces, like a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress or cushion.
Don’t keep crib bumpers, loose bedding, toys or other soft objects in your baby’s crib. They put your baby in danger of being trapped, strangled or suffocated.
Don’t use cribs with drop-side rails. Don’t put portable bed rails on a regular bed. Babies can get stuck in fences and choke. Don’t try to fix a crib that has broken or missing parts.
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How Do You Put Your Baby to Sleep Safely?
Here’s how to help keep your baby safe when you put her to sleep:
Put your baby to sleep on his back every time until he’s one year old. It’s not safe for a baby to sleep on his side or tummy.
If your baby can roll from his back to his side or tummy and back again, it’s OK if he changes positions while sleeping.
Dress your baby in light sleep clothes. Remove any strings or ties from his pyjamas and don’t cover his head.
But once he can roll over, stop swaddling. A swaddled baby placed on or rolls onto his tummy while sleeping may be more likely SIDS.
Swaddling is when you snugly wrap a light blanket around your baby so that it covers most of his body below the neck.
Give your baby a pacifier. Pacifiers may help protect against SIDS.
If you’re breastfeeding, wait until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old or until she’s used to breastfeeding before giving her a pacifier. If your baby doesn’t take a pacifier, don’t force it.
It’s OK if the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth during sleep.
Don’t hang the pacifier around your baby’s neck or attach the pacifier to your baby’s clothing or a stuffed animal. Give your baby a pacifier for naps and at bedtime.
Don’t use home cardiorespiratory monitors as a way to reduce the risk of SIDS. These monitors track a baby’s heart rate and breathing.
Some babies need this kind of monitor because of medical problems, but this is rare. There’s no evidence that the monitors help reduce the risk of SIDS in healthy babies.
How Does Breastfeeding Affect Safe Sleep?
Breastfeeding for at least the first 6 of your baby’s life can reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS.
It’s OK to breastfeed your baby in your bed. Before you start feeding, move any bedding and pillows from your bed in case you fall asleep.
If you fall asleep, move your baby to his crib or bassinet as soon as you wake up. Breastfeeding your baby in bed is safer than on a sofa or cushioned chair.
Babies often fall asleep while breastfeeding, especially when they get full.
If you think your baby’s asleep and hasn’t finished feeding, try to wake him gently by rubbing his back, tickling his feet, burping him or switching him to the other breast.
If your baby’s not latched on correctly, he may fall asleep. You can break the latch by putting your pinky finger in the side of his mouth.
Ask your lactation consultant to help you make sure your baby has a good latch. A latch is when your baby’s mouth is securely attached to the area around your nipple for breastfeeding.
Are there other ways to help reduce your baby’s risk of sleep dangers, including SIDS?
Yes. Here’s what you can do:
Make sure your baby gets all her vaccinations. These shots help protect her from serious childhood diseases and may help prevent SIDS.
All children should be vaccinated for their health and so they don’t spread infections to others.
Don’t smoke and keep your baby away from other smokers and secondhand smoke (smoke from other people’s cigarettes, cigars and pipes).
Babies who live with smokers are at increased risk of SIDS. Keep your home and your car smoke-free.
Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful drugs during pregnancy. Babies of mothers who do these things are at increased risk of SIDS.
Go to all your prenatal care checkups during pregnancy. Babies of mothers who don’t get regular prenatal care are at increased risk of SIDS.
Can a Bedtime Routine Help Your Baby Sleep?
Yes. Your baby’s sleep schedule changes over time, but sticking to a routine can make bedtime easier for both of you.
Start setting a bedtime routine when your baby’s around 4 to 6 months old.
Here’s how to get your baby ready for bedtime:
- Wind down any playtime fun.
- Turn off the phone, television, etc.
- Give your baby a warm bath.
- Softly stroke your baby’s back.
- Give your baby a pacifier.
- Sing to your baby or play soft music.
- Read your baby a bedtime story.
Stick to your baby’s sleep routine as much as you can.
Plan if your baby’s routine may need a temporary change, like if you’re going out of town to travel or attending family parties.
Change his bedtime the best you can but try to get back to his schedule and routine as soon as possible.
What Is Tummy Time?
Tummy time is when you put your baby on her stomach while she’s awake. It can help make your baby’s neck, shoulder and arm muscles stronger.
It also helps prevent flat spots on the back of your baby’s head that she may get from sleeping on her back.
Always watch your baby during tummy time or make sure an adult who is awake is watching your baby.
Helping Your Newborn Sleep
Newborns follow their schedule. Over the next couple of weeks to months, you and your baby will begin to settle into a routine.
If you are having trouble getting your baby to sleep in a crib, consider using a bassinet or cradle instead. A full-size crib is sometimes too big for a newborn or young infant.
Swaddling is an excellent technique that often helps babies get to sleep, stay asleep, and get comforted quickly, especially when they are newborns.
A properly-swaddled baby feels warm and secure, and the wrap can help prevent a baby from throwing his arms up and startling himself or even scratching his face.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is a high risk of death if a swaddled infant is placed in or rolls to the prone position, and provides the following guidelines:
If infants are swaddled, they should always be placed on the back.
Swaddling should be snug around the chest but allow for ample room at the hips and knees to avoid exacerbation of hip dysplasia.
When an infant exhibits signs of attempting to roll, swaddling should no longer be used.
It may take a few weeks for your baby’s brain to know the difference between night and day.
Unfortunately, there are no tricks to speed this up, but it helps keep things quiet and calm during middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes.
Try to keep the lights low and resist the urge to play with or talk to your baby. This will send the message that nighttime is for sleeping.
If possible, let your baby fall asleep in the crib at night, so your little one learns that it’s the place for sleep.
Don’t try to keep your baby up during the day in the hopes that they will sleep better at night.
Overtired infants often have more trouble sleeping at night than those who’ve had enough sleep during the day.
If your newborn is fussy, it’s OK to rock, cuddle, and sing as your baby settles down.
Swaddling (wrapping the baby in a light blanket) can also help to soothe a crying baby. For the first months of your baby’s life, “spoiling” is not a problem.
(In fact, newborns who are held or carried during the day tend to have less colic and fussiness.)
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