How to make sure your baby is sleeping in a safe environment

baby sleeping

Putting your baby to sleep in a safe environment and on their back is very important and can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Sudden infant death syndrome is very rare, but it is still important to follow sleep safety guidelines. Nobody knows why some babies suddenly die in their sleep, but experts do agree on ways to reduce the risk. Where you put your baby to sleep, however, can be confusing for new parents.

Evidence shows that putting a baby down to sleep on anything but a firm, flat surface, can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). A soft surface makes it harder for babies to lose body heat and maintain a safe temperature. The mattress must be waterproof and there should be no raised or cushioned areas.

Never use soft, loose blankets or duvets. They can lead to overheating or obstructing a baby's airway and suffocation if they roll over or their face becomes covered by loose bedding. Baby sleeping bags are a good option as they prevent your baby’s head from being covered by wriggling under bedding. You can choose different togs for different seasons, to help keep your baby at the right temperature – so extra bedding shouldn't be needed.

How to put your baby to bed safely

  • Use a firm, flat waterproof mattress with nothing else in the cot. Always put them to sleep on their back.
  • Don't put pillows, blankets or any loose bedding in the cot.
  • Don't use bumpers or bolsters.
  • Don't let them overheat.
  • Never put the baby on their front or side.
  • Don't cover their head or face.
  • Don't share a bed with your baby if you or your partner has been drinking, is a smoker, has been taking drugs or is extremely tired, or if your baby was premature or of low birth weight.
  • Sleep in the same room as your baby until they're six-months-old.
  • Don't take sofa naps together (tempting though it might be).
  • Don't use rolled up blankets to keep your baby in one position, unless a healthcare professional has advised you to do so to help with a specific medical condition.

If you're concerned about flat head syndrome, the NHS recommends:

  • Tummy time during the day while you watch them.
  • Switch the baby between different positions during the day, using a sling or bouncer chair.
  • If your baby has a mobile, move it around so that they move their head around to watch it.
  • Alternate the side you carry or feed your baby on.

Are sleep pods or sleep nests safe for babies?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) prevention charity The Lullaby Trust has previously warned that some popular sleeping products for babies do not conform to safe sleep guidelines. Many of these items can be found in well-known high street stores and often wrongly claim to be safe for use.

Products considered unsafe for use include cushioned sleeping pods, nests, sleep positioners, baby hammocks, cot bumpers, pillows, duvets and anything that wedges or straps a baby in place in their cot. These can all pose a risk of SIDS to babies under 12 months.

Pods or nests are a softer type of sleep surface sometimes used instead of or in addition to a mattress, with areas that are raised or cushioned. These have become a very popular purchase for expectant parents in recent years. However, when sleeping, babies shouldn't lie on or have anything soft around them, particularly their heads, as this can cause them to overheat and increases the risk of SIDS, says the Lullaby Trust. Soft, squishy materials can also cover baby’s mouth and nose if they are pressed against it.

It is also important to remember that while there is a British Standard for cot mattresses, there is no standard for pods or nests as a sleeping place for babies.

What to look for when buying safe baby sleep products

The Lullaby Trust strongly advises that any product you choose complies with British Standards. This especially important if you're buying an item over the internet. A British Standard confirms that the product has passed certain tests, such as making sure it will not fall apart or set on fire easily. It does not mean, however, that it will be safe when it comes to reducing the risk of SIDS. If a product complies with a standard it should be stated on the product, its packaging or website.

The Lullaby Trust also advise that you carefully follow the instructions that come with any product. If you buy a second-hand product, it is very important that you get hold of a copy of the instructions from the manufacturer. When a manufacturer creates a sleeping product they mean for it to be used in a certain way. Using an item in a way the manufacturer did not intend could put your baby at risk.

Just because a product is made by a name you know or sold on the high street does not mean it is safe for your baby to sleep in or on.

There's a sleep product that claims to make my baby sleep for longer – should I buy it?

Some products claim to help make your baby sleep better or for longer. For tired parents, anything that might give you a few more winks may seem like a brilliant idea. However, encouraging babies to sleep for longer, and more deeply than is normal for their stage of development, may affect their ability to wake up if something is wrong, such as if their mouth and nose become covered by bedding. This inability to wake easily from sleep is thought to be linked to SIDS

Why you shouldn't buy a breathable mattress

Some products claim to be breathable and have a special temperature regulation feature. However, the best way to prevent your baby from overheating is to put them down to sleep on a flat, firm surface. Rather than being breathable, it is more important that a mattress is waterproof or has a waterproof cover. A waterproof cover helps to stop bacteria building up inside the mattress so there is less risk of infection, which may decrease the risk of SIDS.

Why you shouldn't use a sleep positioner to reduce the risk of flat head syndrome

Some products claim to reduce the risk of flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly). A baby’s head is soft and can naturally become flattened, which worries some parents. A product should not be needed to prevent or reduce this. If a product is soft enough to reduce flat-head syndrome, it is soft enough to cause a baby to overheat, which increases the chance of SIDS. Anything soft in a cot can also increase the risk of suffocation.

Why products claiming to be 'safer for baby' might not be

Some products may claim to be 'safer for baby'. However, there are no standards that look specifically at whether a product decreases or increases the risk of SIDS; most cover other issues, such as the construction of the item, chemicals or fire safety. To reduce the risk of SIDS, pick products that allow you to follow safer sleep advice, such as sleeping bags, which stop babies from wriggling under covers. When it comes to the sleeping surface, flat, firm and waterproof is safest.

Why you cant trust brands' claims that their sleep product will reduce the risk of SIDS

Some products even claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. They might be safer than products which don't make this claim but there is no guarantee that it's true, as it depends on what the product is being compared to.

You can find more information on choosing baby sleep products here.