How to Create a Safe Baby Sleep Space

Safe Sleep SpaceSetting up your baby’s nursery is such a happy event for parents. I remember organizing all of my daughter-to-be’s socks, nightgowns and hats in neat, color-coordinated rows and sending photos to her Grandmas. (This nonsense stopped the minute we came home from the hospital.) In addition to choosing the perfect color and theme for your newborn nursery, it’s important to also think about safety. We have the 8 essential steps you need to take to ensure your baby’s sleep space is safe and comfortable.

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8 Steps to Creating a Safe Sleep Space for Your Baby

Step 1: Simplify your baby’s bed

The simpler the sleep space, the safer it is. Think Spartan! All your baby needs is a firm mattress with a fitted sheet. That’s it!

Pillows, bumpers, stuffed animals, blankets and duvets are both unnecessary and make your baby’s crib dangerous. They increase your baby’s risk of SIDS, suffocation and entrapment.  

Don’t worry about your baby not being comfortable in his crib. Soft, cotton pajamas and a sleep sack will help him feel cosy and relaxed. Even if your baby is rolling around easily on his own, there’s no need for a pillow until two years old.

Here’s what a safe crib looks like

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Many parents want to soften up baby’s crib with bumpers. I totally get this, I was also nervous about my baby rolling around and hitting her hands or head on the wooden crib bars. But bumpers have been directly linked to higher incidents of SIDS, strangulation and suffocation. Please remove any bumpers from your baby’s crib. 

Vertical crib liners are a safer alternative to crib bumpers. They’re small pieces of fabric that cover each crib bar individually. So you get to soften up baby’s crib while also allowing air to flow freely in and out.

Mobiles are nice for very young babies because they can be entertained by the lights and music. But, as soon as your baby starts to sit up, it’s time to remove a mobile that’s hanging on baby’s crib.

Sitting up often occurs between 4-6 months old, and at this age your baby will be too distracted to sleep with lights and music playing. Plus, he’ll want to grab it!

Vertical Crib Liners

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Step 2: Reconsider using a hand-me-down crib

Hand-me-down cribs are great for your budget, just make sure your crib conforms to current crib safety standards. In 2011 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission updated their crib safety standards. Cribs with drop-down side rails are now prohibited.

You can find affordable new cribs on Amazon and at Ikea.

Affordable Baby Cribs

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Step 3: Lower the crib mattress once baby can stand up

Older babies can climb out of the crib earlier than you think. Once your baby starts pulling up to standing, make sure the crib mattress is at the lowest setting. I recommend doing this by 5-6 months old, to be safe.

Spend some time in your baby’s bedroom while she’s in the crib awake and playing, to ensure she can’t somersault out!

Step 4: Keep the space around baby’s crib clear

You’d be surprised what your little one can manage to reach out and grab onto! Take a few minutes to check around your baby’s crib for items he can grab or use to climb out of the crib. 

Are there curtains or cords nearby? Any furniture that he can climb on? Keeping the space around baby’s crib clear keeps him safely contained in the crib long-term.

Step 5: Dress your baby in a sleep sack

Many parents, especially new ones, wonder what clothes a baby or a newborn should sleep in. One of the best ways to keep your baby safe while sleeping is to have your baby wear a sleep sack, or “wearable blanket.” 

Sleep sacks are fantastic because they keep your baby warm, comfortable and safe all night long. Duvets and loose blankets are a suffocation risk for children under 12 months. Plus, you’ll have peace of mind (and sleep better) because you’re not worrying about your baby kicking off a loose blanket 47 times every night! 

Sleep sacks are safe to wear once your baby can roll, crawl, stand and walk. Your little one should sleep in one until age 3, ideally. 

Most sleep sacks use the TOG rating system to indicate how thick the sleep sack is and what season it should be worn in. 

There are thin, light sleep sacks for summer (TOG rating 0.5-1) and thick, warm ones for winter (TOG rating 2-3.) Often included is a guide on how to dress your baby under the sleep sack depending on room temperature. It couldn’t be easier!

Some parents think their baby doesn’t like the sleep sack because baby cries when they put it on. But babies don’t inherently hate sleep sacks (or cribs, for that matter.) Babies usually cry at bedtime because they’re just tired and want to sleep. 

So don’t take that as a sign that your baby specifically dislikes his sleep sack. Just get him in it quickly and get him to sleep! You can also try a larger size sleep sack. Perhaps the sleep sack you’re using is a bit small and your baby wants more room to kick his legs.

Traditional Sleep Sacks

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Halo

Burt’s Bees

Hudson Baby

Swaddle Designs

This chart suggests what your baby should wear, depending on the temperature and thickness of the bag.

Step 6: Don’t let your baby get overheated

We still don’t know exactly what causes SIDS, however overheating is often implicated. 

Babies regulate their temperature through the head and face. If a baby is put to bed heavily dressed (including a hat) and a loose blanket covers part of his face, then he is likely to get dangerously overheated. 

Make sure to dress your baby with the same amount of clothing that you are comfortable wearing to sleep. Do not put your baby to bed wearing a hat. 

Even if it’s a freezing cold night (and you can’t get the heater working) you don’t want your baby sleeping in a hat. Hats can come loose and cover your baby’s face. Instead, put your baby in a thick sleep sack with long-sleeve pajamas, pants and socks on underneath.

A bedroom temperature somewhere between 60°F-68°F (or 16°C-20°C) is often recommended. Many parents love having thermometers in baby’s bedroom that change color, indicating that the room is too hot or cold. 

It’s worth noting that room temperature alone isn’t indicated with an increased risk of SIDS. What’s more important is that your baby is appropriately dressed, and sleeping on his back with his face uncovered.

If you think your baby may be too warm, the best place to check is his chest or back of the neck. Cool hands and feet can be normal, especially in young babies. Sweating and reddened cheeks are also good indicators.

Popular Room Thermometers

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Baby Room Thermometer

Baby Room Thermometer

Step 7: Your baby should always sleep on her back

Recommendations (check out AAP’s safe sleep guidelines) on this have changed over the years, and unfortunately no one has informed Grandma. A connection between SIDS and babies sleeping on their stomachs is now well established. 

Multiple research studies done over several decades now overwhelmingly show that babies are safest when sleeping on their backs, both for naps and night sleep. In the 25 years since recommending back sleep,  SIDS statistics show that baby deaths have decreased by more than 50%.

This guide shows you how to get your baby happily sleeping on her back.

Step 8: Be aware of the dangers of smoking

The risk of SIDS is increased with maternal smoking during pregnancy and exposure to secondhand smoke after birth. 

Your baby’s best chance at good health and a safe sleep space is to not live with a smoker. At the very least, make sure no one smokes inside your home. 

And please seek out help if you or your partner smokes and wants to quit.

Setting up a safe sleep space for your baby isn’t complicated when you know what to do (and not do.) Remember, the simpler the sleep space, the better!

Have your baby sleep in a modern crib with only a fitted sheet. No bumpers, pillows, loose blankets or mobiles needed! Lower the crib mattress once your baby starts pulling to stand. And keep the space around baby’s crib free from furniture, curtains and cords. Dress your baby in a sleep sack and use a thermometer to know what baby should wear under the sleep sack. Lastly, always place your baby to sleep on his back, for every sleep. And make sure no one smokes inside your home. 

Following all of these tips, for every sleep, will ensure you’re giving your little one a comfortable and safe place to sleep.