Tips for safe sleeping during baby’s first year

Exhausted parents don’t need one more thing to keep them up at night. But this alarming statistic might do just that: Each year, around 3,500 babies in the United States die from unsafe sleep situations.

These unexplained deaths often occur in healthy babies under one year of age. The cause is labeled sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Fortunately, updated recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) may help lower the incidence of SIDS.

Room with your baby

You can reduce the risk of SIDS by almost 50 percent when you share a room — but not the same bed — with your baby for the first six to 12 months. Parents should:

  • Have a separate sleep area for their baby, such as a crib or bassinet, in their bedroom
  • Avoid falling asleep while holding a baby to prevent accidental suffocation. Couches are especially dangerous because infants can easily get wedged between the cushions and suffocate.

Follow the “back-to-sleep” rule

When putting your baby down for a rest, always lay your child on his or her back – never on the belly or side. Babies who sleep on their stomachs have a higher risk of SIDS, though it’s not completely understood why. One theory is that they might be breathing in too much carbon dioxide from exhaled air that gets trapped between the mattress and baby’s face. Avoid side-sleeping wedges as well, which haven’t been proven safe and may also pose a suffocation risk.

Place your baby on a firm, clutter-free mattress

Choose a firm mattress that doesn’t indent when your baby’s head lies on it, and cover the mattress with a tightly fitted sheet. Avoid blankets because overheating increases SIDS risk — babies should wear just one more layer than you would need to feel comfortable in the room.

You should also avoid decorating your baby’s crib with items that pose a suffocation risk, such as:

  • Soft bedding
  • Crib bumpers
  • Blankets
  • Pillows

Offer breast milk and pacifiers

Breastfeeding seems to have a protective effect on babies. Research shows that breastfed babies are at less risk for SIDS. The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least the first six months, and preferably 12 months or longer.

Introducing a pacifier will also decrease the risk of SIDS, but pediatricians suggest waiting until breastfeeding is firmly established. Never hang a pacifier on a string around your baby’s neck or attach it to clothing, as these can pose a suffocation risk.

Not all babies will take a pacifier, so don’t worry too much if your baby doesn’t use one. By implementing the AAP sleep recommendations, you’re taking important steps to keep your sleeping baby safe and healthy.

To help parents sleep easier, UCLA pediatricians are able to answer questions and provide expert care. To find a pediatrician, call 800-825-2631 or visit You can also learn more about infant sleep needs and problems.

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