The environment your child sleeps in is part of establishing good sleep hygiene. It will also help to reduce the risk of Sudden Death Infant Syndrome (SIDS). This is when a baby under the age of 1 years unfortunately dies unexpectedly whilst they are asleep. The following tips will give you an insight into best practice for safe sleeping as well as any environmental factors that could be affecting sleep.
It is recommended that parents put their infants to sleep in their rooms at least up until the age of 6 months preferably in their own bed (bed-side cots/cribs) next to the bed of their parents which is called co-sleeping. Room sharing allows you to keep an eye on your infant to prevent SIDS or suffocation and this also makes it easier for night feeds. The mattress used for your child's bed should be hard flat, firm & waterproof. The sheets should fit firmly over the mattress and if a blanket is used it should be tucked in and only as high as infants chest. They should always be placed on their backs for any sleep.
This is when parents share a bed with their child and although some researchers strongly advise against this, sometimes in the middle of the night it can be the easiest way to settle baby in your bed and can be helpful if breastfeeding. There are instances when you don't intend to bed-share but perhaps you fall asleep whilst breastfeeding or maybe your infant is unwell and needs some extra love and cuddles. Whatever your reasons are, if you are happy to bed-share you must be well informed about the risks associated with bed-sharing and the risk of SIDS so that it is done in the safest way possible to prevent this from happening. This includes all the other safety advice as well as allowing no other children to sleep in the bed with parents and baby, no pets in the bed, and nothing that could obstruct breathing (suffocation) or cause them to overheat.
Bed-sharing should be avoided if:
you have had alcohol or drugs (including over the-counter or prescription medicines that make you drowsy or sleep deeply)
your baby was born prematurely or had a low birth weight
you are a smoker or smoked during pregnancy
It is not bedsharing that is considered a risk but it is UNSAFE bedsharing
The bed of a young infant should have nothing in there with them as too many things can increase the risk of suffocation and they should always be placed feet to foot (of bed) to sleep. Parents should also be careful when using bumpers including breathable ones as they are in the process of being banned in some countries due to the risks associated with using them. The bedroom should be kept for a place of sleep and in addition to this, the more clutter, e.g toys and mobiles there is in the bedroom itself the more stimulating it is to a young child which can create difficulties with settling.
Other places for sleeping
Always make sure your child is put to sleep in the best places according to safety guidelines. Never put your baby to sleep on a sofa, an armchair, a waterbed or cushions. They could easily turn over on to their sides or their stomachs when placed on these soft surfaces. If a baby turns over on to a soft surface, they may not get enough air to breathe, which can cause suffocation. Sofa sleeping is considered one of the most unsafe and is never recommended.
The ideal temperature in the room an infant sleeps should be16 - 20 degrees Celsius. It is also important to keep an eye on the actual body temperature of your child as this will allow them to be able to settle more easily in order to fall asleep and stay asleep. Young children should be kept cool at all times especially through the night as overheating can increase the risk of SIDS. On the other hand feeling too cold can trigger night-waking and so they must always be kept at an optimal temperature.
Try using a pacifier during naps and at bedtime as these can help to reduce the risk of SIDS even if it does fall out after the baby is asleep, so don't worry about making sure you put it back in if this happens. If you are currently breastfeeding, wait until this is well established before offering your child a pacifier. If they do not want to take one, you can always try again at a later stage.
Is there any excess noise/background noise that could be causing disruptions to sleep such as night or early wake ups? Review the traffic noise, alarms, neighbours, loud dogs etc. During the day noise is absolutely fine as you don't want to have to tip toe around the house or ask others to do the same whilst your child is having a nap.
Bedroom lighting is something that should also be considered when creating the best sleep environment for your child. If there is too much light coming into the room it can cause disturbances so the bedroom should be darkened. If you feel it is too dark or your child is afraid of the dark, you can always use a very dim night light to maintain the ambience of an optimal sleep environment. During the day there is no need to darken the room if putting your child down for a nap.
Bedtime routines are extremely helpful and should not be skipped. You should do the same things in the same order every night to ensure consistency & predictability. The routine should be age appropriate, not too long or over complicated. Try not to begin the routine too late so that your child is not too tired to maintain focus and remember that it is a calm down time before sleep therefore making your child excited should be avoided. Routines for daytime naps should be a shortened version of the evening one.
Going to sleep should be associated with peace, calm and sleep rather than tears, punishment and battles. Parents should try to avoid their feelings of frustration from getting the best of them as children often mirror these emotions and it makes it more difficult to settle them. They struggle to cope with distressing emotions as they lack the brain maturation & cognitive skills to deal with it all and thus need our help to self-regulate.
Always remember that accidents can happen especially in the instances of SIDS occurring so it's absolutely essential to make sure infants are always put to sleep in the safest ways possible.
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