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

When babies sleep safely, mums and dads sleep too. But how can you be sure that your baby is sleeping safely? We talked to emergency medicine physician and child safety expert Dr. Mark Brandenburg, also author of the book "Baby Safe”. Here 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 sleep is the best time for mum and dad to get a peaceful, relaxing break. There are two fundamental concepts of safe sleeping for a baby who is less than 12 months old: the baby’s sleeping position and sleeping environment.

Is it best for a baby to sleep on their back or tummy?

By far the safest sleeping position for a baby is on back. Safe to Sleep (originally Back to Sleep) is an American campaign that was launched 25 years ago. It urged parents to place sleeping babies on their backs, and, 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 sleep surface until they are at least 12 months old.

What should a safe sleeping environment for a baby look like?

A good quality baby cot or cradle is the safest sleeping environment for your baby. Place the cot in a location where furniture, curtains, venetian blind cords and similar are well out of reach of the baby.

Which cot mattress and mattress cover should I use?

The two most important qualities in a cot mattress are its firmness and the fit. The mattress should fit snugly against each side of the cot, so the baby can’t crawl beneath it or get stuck in a gap between the mattress and the sides of the cot. If you can fit two fingers between the side of the cot and the mattress, the mattress is too small. Make sure that 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 cot 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 cosy sleeping bag. This will usually suffice to keep a baby warm while sleep. You should avoid putting blankets, cot bumpers, pillows, quilts, soft toys and teddies in your baby’s cot.

Is it safe to co-sleep with my baby?

The safest sleep environment for your baby is in a cot 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 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 has published over 25 medical papers on emergency medicine and injury epidemiology. He draws upon his experience as a physician, researcher, and father.