Creating a Safe and Effective Sleeping Environment

Where Should My Baby Sleep?

As issues go, there are perhaps few within the world of parenting so frequently debated as the subject of babies' sleep; how to get them off, where to put them, how to lie them down, how to monitor them, what to do if they wake up, and so on, and so on. Previous generations of mothers (and fathers) were probably not so preoccupied with the question, as the pace of life arguably allowed them more licence to let baby's rhythm's dictate. But as the current generation of parents juggle competing priorities, and find increasingly the necessity for both adults in the household to work outside the home, getting enough sleep to keep the show on the road, as it were, feels absolutely central to many.

So what is the goal here? Put simply, what we most want is a) a baby sleeping well, and b) the opportunity to rest easy because we know all has been done to make baby comfortable and keep him safe. Even the briefest of flicks through the current baby book bestsellers, or search on Google, will indicate that there is much discussion on the topic of co-sleeping (where baby sleeps in the same bed as his parent(s)). We will examine this issue separately, and for now, concentrate on giving you the widely agreed upon answers to the frequently asked questions about babies' sleep.

Which Room Should My Baby Sleep In?

The simple answer is 'yours' for at least the first six months of his life. This view is supported by every research study that has examined the causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS or 'cot death'), and by paediatric psychologists and baby experts alike. Keep the room at an even temperature between 16 and 20 degrees centigrade if possible. There are baby room thermometers readily available to help you establish the temperature where your baby is sleeping.

What Type of Bed Should He Sleep In?

The general consensus is that he should sleep in a crib, bassinet or cot next to you. That way you can remain alert to his needs during the night. Your choice may be in part dictated by the space available, and cribs and bassinets have the advantage of being portable, should you need to sleep away from home for the night, or should you prefer your baby to nap in a different room during the day time. If you do use a crib or bassinet, make sure it has a secure stand or base, and that you move your baby to a cot when he reaches the maximum weight guidelines indicated by the manufacturer.

There are also three-sided cots that attach directly to the adult's bedframe but allow the baby his own sleeping space, now available. Use a new mattress for each new child in the family, and keep the area around him free from clutter. Cots or Cot beds (Cots that become small beds once your child reaches the toddlerhood) are the ideal next stage bed for your child as their design prevents your child from falling out during the night. Whatever you choose to use, make sure that your chosen crib, bassinet, cot or cot bed is of sound construction, and if it is handed down to you, that it is in good order. Very old cots may have unsuitable paint or varnish on them, whereas newer models all employ child-friendly products in their decoration.

What Should He Wear or Sleep Beneath?

Again, the significant lobby of experts whose focus is on the prevention of SIDS argue strongly for the use of sleep suits or baby sleeping bags, as they are much less likely to in any way restrict the flow of air to the baby's mouth and nose, while at the same time keeping him at a comfortable even temperature. Most reputable manufacturers of baby sleeping bags provide a thermometer and a handy guide to managing your baby's temperature, with bags having tog ratings similar to duvets. In the UK a general rule of thumb would be to use a 2.5 tog bag during the winter and a 1.0 tog during the summer, but do check the packaging of your chosen bag. These items have the added advantage of not coming off if your child is the wriggle-about kind!

If you prefer the use of sheets and blankets, cellular blankets (those with a deliberately loose knit that allows air to flow through) are a must. If you choose to use blankets in particular, it is important to place your baby with his feet to the foot of the bed, so that if he wriggles and moves about during his sleep he has 'room' to escape the covers and keep his airways clear.

How Much Sleep Does He Need?

This depends very much on your baby and on his age and stage of development. Beyond the guidance given below, you will also find that your baby's sleep can be affected by significant developmental events, such as starting to sit, crawl, stand or walk. In broad terms, your baby needs the following amounts of sleep:

  • Birth to three months: most new-born babies are asleep more than they are awake. Their total daily sleep varies, but can be anything between 8 and 18 hours per day. Babies will wake during the night because they need to be fed. Being too hot or too cold can also disturb their sleep.
  • Three to six months: as your baby grows, he will need fewer night feeds and be able to sleep for longer. Some babies will sleep for eight hours or longer at night. By four months, they could be spending around twice as long sleeping at night as they do during the day.
  • Six to 12 months: at this age, night feeds should no longer be necessary, and some babies will sleep for up to 12 hours at night. Teething discomfort or hunger may wake some babies during the night.
  • 12 months: babies will sleep for around 12-15 hours in total.

What Else Do I Need To Help My Baby Have a Good Night's Sleep?

The market is full of products designed to help your baby sleep. Think carefully before you introduce any of them; once you have, you're probably going to have to live with them for a good while, should they become an established part of your child's sleep routine. This applies right across the board, from the use of a dummy (pacifier or soother) to a comfort toy, to a music and light machine, or womb sounds player. And what will help you to relax and resist anxious checking? Well, most parents invest in a good quality listening device, including those that have an image feed as well as sound detection. There are also monitors that have a pad that lies beneath the baby and can sense if there has been no breath movement for longer than 20 seconds. Beyond a monitor of some description, it is debatable whether you need anything else, except the patience to ride out those first few challenging months of interrupted sleep!

For further advice about reducing the risk of SIDS, see our article Breathing patterns in sleeping babies.

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