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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Babies and Sleep Safety

One of the biggest threats to an infant's sleep safety is SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), also known as “crib death“ or “cot death”.  SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant who is younger than 1 year old.  Research has not yet determined what causes SIDS.  However, infants who sleep on their backs are less likely to experience SIDS.  As a preventative measure, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be put to sleep:

  • On their backs,

  • On a firm mattressNever put your baby to sleep on a pillow, sheepskin, waterbed, or other soft surface.
  • In a room that is not too warmKeep your baby's bedroom at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult in a short-sleeved shirt.

  • In a nonsmoking environmentResearch finds that exposure to secondhand smoke doubles a baby's risk of SIDS.
  • With no toys or loose bedding in the crib that may inhibit baby's breathing
  • With a pacifierThis is a very individual decision and parents have widely differently beliefs about pacifier use, however, pacifiers have been linked with a lower risk of SIDS. 

Even though you are putting your baby to sleep on his or her back, it is still very important to give babies "tummy time" each day.  This is time spent on their stomachs playing and exploring during the day.  Tummy time helps babies develop the neck and shoulder muscle strength they will need to roll over, sit up, and crawl.  Tummy time can also reduce the risk of positional plagiocephaly, an increasingly common condition in which babies develop a flat spot on the back of their heads from spending too much time lying on their backs.

Once babies can roll over on their own—usually around 4 to 7 months—they are able to choose their own sleep position, and often do not stay on their backs all night long. At that point, it is safe to let babies pick a sleep position on their own. 

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