By Bernadette Flynn-Kelton, BSN, RNC
With a baby in the house, you cannot help but think about sleep, whether you are focused on getting your baby down for a nap or longing for a time when your baby — and the rest of the household — sleeps through the night.
As important as sleep is, parents (and caregivers) have to remember there are certain rules to keep in mind to keep a baby safe while sleeping and protect them from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related dangers.
If you are concerned about your baby’s sleep habits or have trouble getting your baby to sleep, talk with your pediatrician.
SIDS Leading Cause of Infant Death
Each year, an estimated 3,500 seemingly healthy babies in the United States die suddenly while they are sleeping, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Most of these deaths are due to SIDS or accidental deaths due to suffocation or strangulation.
In fact, SIDS is the leading cause of death for children one month to one year of age, with most of these deaths occurring between the ages of one and four months.
Additionally, SIDS is most common among African American and Native American babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You can help prevent SIDS and ensure your baby’s safety during sleep by keeping in mind the following guidelines from the AAP:
• Always place your baby on their back to sleep, both at night and during naps. Once your baby can easily turn from back to tummy and tummy to back, it is not necessary to return them to their back if they flip over during sleep.
• Keep blankets and loose sheets, pillows, toys, bumpers, and other items out of your baby’s crib.
• Bed sharing is not recommended, under any circumstances. If you feed your baby in your bed or on a couch and they fall asleep, place them back in their bed.
• Set up your baby’s crib or bassinet in your bedroom, near your bed, for at least six months. Research shows that babies who are kept in close proximity to mom (including rooming-in at the hospital) and co-share the bedroom with parents at home have a better quality of sleep, are generally more content, cry less, and have lower levels of stress hormones.
• Never place your baby on a soft surface like a couch, blanket or pillow to sleep. Instead, place your baby on a firm, flat, surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib or bassinet, and cover the mattress with a fitted sheet.
• If you provide your baby with a pacifier for sleep, make sure it is not attached to a string, clothing, or toy. If the pacifier falls out during sleep, there is no need to replace it.
• Dress your baby appropriately for their sleeping environment to avoid allowing your baby to get overheated.
It is important to note that every caregiver should follow safe sleep guidelines every time your baby is put down for sleep to be sure they are always sleeping in a safe environment.
New Approach for Getting Your Baby to Sleep
Babies can be different types of sleepers, and some need more help than others to fall asleep.
As you spend more time with your infant, you will learn to recognize the signs that they are tired, such as a glazed look, staring into space, frowning, and fussiness.
You will also learn techniques that work best for you and your baby, such as swaddling, a warm bath, infant massage, white noise machine, or putting the baby down in a dimly lit room.
Recently, a study published by the journal Current Biology offered a new approach to getting an infant ready to sleep. In the study, researchers found that if a caregiver carries an infant while walking for five minutes, then sits with the baby for eight minutes, they can successfully soothe the child, and possibly get them to sleep.
The researchers discovered that an infant’s heart rate decreases when they are carried, which helps them calm down and get ready for sleep.
Researchers stressed that walking with an infant in your arms for five minutes continuously is crucial. Then it can be followed by five to eight minutes of sitting with the baby in your arms in order to “stabilize their sleep.”
The reason? The first five to eight minutes of sleep is considered shallow sleep. If you place and infant down during that time, they are more likely to wake up.
However, if you wait for five to eight minutes after the infant falls asleep, it will increase your success rate.
OK to Ask for Help
New parents are often surprised to learn that babies don’t sleep longer than two to three hours at a time in the early days and months. Regular sleep cycles usually begin around three to four months when some babies may sleep for stretches of four or five hours, but every baby is different.
Parents can prepare for the inevitable sleep deprivation by planning frequent rest periods throughout the day, and if possible, asking family and friends to help with household chores like cooking and cleaning as well as parenting duties like bathing, cuddling, and changing the baby.
New parents should remember it is OK to ask for help if they’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. The support of family and friends is an important part of helping new parents cope with this major life change.
To find a pediatrician affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 888-742-7496 or visit princetonhcs.org.
Bernadette Flynn-Kelton, BSN, RN is a registered nurse, board certified lactation consultant, and health educator at Penn Medicine Princeton Health Community Wellness.