Help your baby sleep soundly and safely

Help your baby sleep soundly and safely

A baby is sleeping on their back in a cot

Many of the safe sleep recommendations result in your baby having lighter sleep. This is of course, protective against SIDS. But is there a way to help your baby sleep soundly, while still keeping them safe while they sleep? After all, most new parents are exhausted and sleep deprived, surviving on very little sleep! Is there a way for YOU to get more sleep? 

This article will suggest a few ideas that might help you get more sleep! 

Create a safe sleep environment for your baby

As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is ensure your baby has a safe sleep environment. While we all want our little ones to sleep soundly, it’s also vital they sleep safely. In this article, I’ll cover the latest guidelines on safe sleep practices to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and accidental suffocation.

I live in the UK, therefore I will base this article on the Lullaby Trust guidelines. Each country has their own safe sleep guidelines, therefore it is important that you familiarize yourself with them. However, the ones I’ve listed here probably won’t be too different from the ones in your country. 

The recommendations are: 

  1. Your baby should sleep in their own sleep space. Ideally this should be a cot with a firm waterproof mattress.
  2. Sleep should be supervised and in the same room as parents, day and night, for at least the first six months.
  3. There should be no loose bedding, toys, cot bumpers or sleep positioners in the cot.
  4. Your baby should sleep at the foot of the cot, so that they can’t slide down under the covers. 
  5. Your baby should sleep on their back, not on their side or stomach. The back sleep position reduces the risk of SIDS significantly.
  6. Don’t smoke or allow smoking around your baby.
  7. Set the room temperature between 16-20°C. You may have to adjust the layers of clothing on your baby, depending on the room temperature. 
  8. Ensure that all covers are kept away from baby’s face and any bedding is tucked in securely below shoulder level.
  9. Breastfeed if possible. 

Lighter sleep reduces the risk of SIDS

While not all of the recommendations listed above will lead to lighter sleep, some of them most certainly do. For example, babies do not find sleeping on their back to be a natural position, therefore will often wake more often and have lighter sleep in this position. 

Overheating babies, either through room temperatures that are too warm, or too many layers, may also make it harder for babies to wake out of a deeper sleep, therefore increasing the risk of SIDS. If babies are kept on the cooler side, they can (and probably will!) wake more easily. 

While the Lullaby Trust does not have a position on swaddling, there may be a potential increased risk of SIDS. This is probably because swaddling promotes deeper sleep in babies, and may also increase the risk of overheating. 

The American  Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a pacifier (or dummy) as a way to reduce the risk of SIDS. This is because sucking on a dummy keeps a baby in lighter sleep. However, the Lullaby Trust does not recommend dummies as a way to reduce the risk of SIDS because dummy use may cause other problems and have an impact on breastfeeding success. 

Breastfeeding has a protective effect against SIDS. This may be in part due to the immune properties of breastmilk, but also because breastfed babies exhibit different sleeping patterns from formula fed babies

Baby sleeping soundly on an adults chest. The baby is in a baby sling.

The dilemma for parents

You’ve probably discovered that your baby sleeps very soundly, and for hours, when in contact with you! This is because babies feel safer and secure when they are in your arms. Unfortunately, most parents find that this is unsustainable and that they can’t do it safely. 

Often, parents make the decision NOT to co-sleep (bedshare) with their baby, because they have read that it is not safe. This could potentially lead to either: 

  • You get up at night and sit on a sofa with your baby. However, we know that falling asleep on a sofa with a baby is very dangerous and increases the risk of accidental suffocation. If you are very tired overnight, you may find that you accidentally fall asleep with your baby. 
  • You co-sleep when you are extremely tired and you haven’t thought about how to make your bed safe for your baby. 
Therefore, I always suggest to clients that they at least think about ways in which to make their bed safe for their baby, even if they don’t intend to co-sleep. You can read about this in more detail in this article that I wrote: Safe co-sleeping : Rebecca Scott-pillai (rebeccascottpillai.co.uk)

Making contact sleep sustainable

Dr James McKenna, an anthropologist who has studied infant sleep in detail, suggests that contact with an adult can actually reduce the risk of SIDS, providing the sleeping environment is safe. The irony is that the best way to make sure your baby sleeps more soundly, without increasing the risk of SIDS, is contact sleep! 

Some parents will decide to sleep with their babies on their chest in an adult bed. I can’t recommend this because it currently goes against the UK guidelines and we don’t have established research (yet) that shows it’s safe. In the meantime, this article written by my friend Consuela Hendricks, may be helpful: Is chest-to-chest sleeping dangerous? – Responsive Parenting Collective

The safest way that parents can encourage their baby to sleep soundly, while maintaining a safe sleep environment, is to adopt the “cuddle curl” position in an adult bed, and make sure that their bed is as safe as possible. I have written about this in detail here: Safe co-sleeping : Rebecca Scott-pillai (rebeccascottpillai.co.uk)

What if contact sleep isn't achievable?

I appreciate that co-sleeping and contact sleep isn’t achievable for everyone. There is also the possibility that if you do a lot of contact naps during the day (say, in a sling, or while you’re watching tv), that your baby gets a lot of sleep during the day, and then doesn’t sleep as much as they potentially could during the night. So, if your priority is to improve night sleep, you may find this article helpful: Newborn sleep: why is my baby waking so much? : (rebeccascottpillai.co.uk)

The next thing you might want to try is to make your baby’s cot as inviting and comforting as possible, without running the risk of creating deeper sleep. So, for example, you might want to: 

  • Sleep on their cot sheets so they have your scent on them. 
  • Use a sound machine while your baby sleeps. Avoid pink noise as this can deepen sleep, but white noise, or womb noises can work well. 
  • Keep them loosely wrapped in a cot sheet if you lift them out for a feed. When you put them back in the cot, make sure it is tucked in securely around the mattress. This sometimes helps with the temperature change of going back into the cot, as the sheet will still be warm. 
  • Don’t jump in straight away with a pat or a reassuring touch if your baby is squirming/grunty in the cot. Babies spend a lot of time in light sleep and they are often quite noisy and squirmy as they reach the end of a sleep cycle! Wait and see if your baby can link their sleep cycles on their own without providing support. 
  • Consider using a co-sleeping crib – one that attaches to your bed. Your baby is close, but still in their own space. 
If you want some more ideas for moving away from contact sleep/co-sleeping, I have written two articles that might be helpful:
Just bear in mind that your baby will always sleep more soundly when in contact with you! Therefore, if your priority is better sleep at night, I’d probably suggest working on moving away from contact naps first, and keep co-sleeping (if you can do it safely and it works for you, of course). 

Need some help with sleep?

I offer gentle, responsive solutions to sleep difficulties, and specialize in working with breastfeeding families. If you’d like to find out more about how I can help, click on the following link: www.rebeccascottpillai.co.uk/sleep 

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