Safe Sleep Starts With Babies in Their Own Separate Sleep Area
Safe Sleep routines include placing your baby to sleep on a firm, flat mattress or sleeping surface with tightly-fitted sheets. The surface shouldn’t be sloped.
By Jean Yaeger
By buckling their children into car seats and lifejackets, parents are taking steps to protect against tragic accidents. Safe sleep practices fit into that same mindset.
Taking precautions in an infant’s sleep space -- just like the precautions involving car seats and lifejackets – helps reduce the risk of serious or fatal injury. That’s why Cook Children’s urges families to make it a priority to create a separate, safe sleep environment for babies 1 year and under. The safest place for babies to sleep is on their backs, on a flat and firm surface, in their own bassinet or crib without pillows, blankets or soft toys.
The message of Safe Sleep gained urgency at Cook Children’s and across the community after we shared that 30 infants died over a 15-month period from cardiac arrest, respiratory failure or other trauma due to sleep incidents that happened at home.
From January through April 2023, five sleep-related deaths were recorded at Cook Children’s, all to infants under 1 year old. These deaths happened on couches, adult beds, and during co-sleeping.
It isn’t safe for anyone to sleep in the same bed with babies at night or even for quick naps on the couch or in a recliner, due to the risk of unintentional suffocation. Babies can fall, be strangled or wedged between furniture and walls. Loose sheets, a comforter or another person’s body can cover the baby’s face and block the airway.
Co-sleeping already creates unsafe risks for babies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identifies several factors that increase the risk even further, including:
- Co-sleeping with one or more people
- Co-sleeping on a waterbed, old mattress or an especially soft surface
- Napping on a couch or armchair, either alone or next to someone else
- Co-sleeping with adults whose fatigue or use of medication, drugs or alcohol makes waking up difficult
More than 3,500 sleep-related infant deaths occur each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What are some reasons that bed-sharing occurs?
Some parents share reasons such as convenient breastfeeding, generational or cultural habits, busy lifestyles, the expense of cribs, limited space to put a baby bed in a crowded home, and the belief that “it won’t happen to me.”
Bianka Soria-Olmos, D.O. of Cook Children’s Pediatrics Haslet says that when her patients report that they bedshare, she shapes the conversation from an injury prevention perspective. In her experience, most families that choose to co-sleep have tried but given up on putting their infants in a separate sleep place.
“The majority of the time moms say the baby just won’t stay in the bassinet,” Dr. Soria-Olmos said.
Some parents opt for bed sharing because they believe it will promote strong emotional bonds. Dr. Soria-Olmos wants them to know that co-sleeping isn’t required for bonding. That’s because everything that parents do to care for their baby – feeding, bathing, diaper changes, singing, play and more – creates the parent-child bonds.
Paulette See, M.D. at Cook Children’s Pediatrics Haslet understands how tempting it can be for parents to bring their baby to bed with them, especially when they’re exhausted.
“I get where you’re coming from,” said Dr. See, who is a mother and grandmother. “As much as we want to love and cuddle our babies all the time, for them to sleep on their backs in their own space is the safest.”
In Dr. See’s experience, postpartum anxiety can lead some mothers to incorrectly believe that their baby is safer sleeping in the parent’s bed. It eases their minds to realize they can still see and touch the baby if the bassinet or crib is within arm’s reach, she said.
Dr. See empathizes with patient families who say their baby sleeps longer and cries less in the parents’ bed. But “just because something fits our lifestyle better doesn’t make it right,” she pointed out.
Here’s a comparison Dr. See makes: Your baby might scream in their car seat, but you buckle them in anyway. The same logic applies to the crib, where your baby might cry at first when learning to sleep separately, but you stick with it from a safety standpoint.
Cook Children’s pediatricians and health care providers want to share the information you need to keep your child safe and healthy. Cook Children’s encourages all families to understand that they can check on, feed and comfort their baby without sleeping in the same bed. Share a room, not a bed. A safe sleep space for your baby can either be a bassinet, portable crib or play yard near their parent’s bed.
Safe Baby Sleep
The Center for Community Health, led by Cook Children’s has collaborated on a campaign for infant sleep awareness since 2015. The Safe Baby Sleep Council campaign includes the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Public Health and other community partners. For videos, educational resources and more information, go to Safe Baby Sleep (centerforchildrenshealth.org)