The Right Way to Put Infant to Sleep

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The exhausted mother picked up her crying three month old infant and started to rock him to get him back to sleep. Once the little boy got back to sleep, the mother laid him down on his side and left him with his favorite blanket.

In the morning, the mother found her infant had managed to move himself from his side to his stomach with his faced buried in his blanket. As the infant started to struggle to breathe, his mother happened to wake up and quickly flipped him onto his back.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a major danger for infants. Roughly 20 year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began to encourage parents to lay infants on their backs when they slept. As more parents began to adopt this recommendation, SIDS deaths dropped by more than 50% over the following 10 years.

Unfortunately, infants were still experiencing accidental suffocations or strangulations in bed. These incidents actually increased at the same time that SIDS was declining. This led to new recommendations to help counter-act other risks to sleeping infants.

In addition to placing infants on their backs while sleeping, the AAP recommends infants sleep on a firm sleep surface covered by a fitted sheet. Soft objects such as toys, crib bumpers, and loose bedding all need to be taken out of an infant’s bed. Infants can easily get caught up in the loose bedding or end up face down in plush objects and mattresses which result in suffocation.

Infants should also have their own sleep area separate from parents. This can be in a crib besides parents’ bed. Exhausted parents can accidentally roll over on a sleeping infant or the infant can fall victim to all of the plush blankets, pillows, and mattresses typically found in adult beds.

Other areas of guidance from AAP include not smoking when around an infant, not letting an infant get too hot during sleep, and not giving babies pacifiers that are attached to strings. Following these recommendations will greatly reduce infants dying in their sleep.

Recently, researchers investigated how well parents were following these recommendations. They found that a vast majority were placing infants on their backs and laying them down on a firm mattress when they were put to sleep. However, almost all infants had loose bedding, bumper pads, pillows, and stuffed animals in their bed with them.

The researchers became even more concerned when they looked at what happens when infants need to be comforted by their parents at night, much like what occurred with the exhausted mother in the above situation.

Infants whose parents had to coax them back to sleep tended to put their infants at higher risk. Parents were more likely to sleep with their infants, place them on their side or stomach to sleep, and have them sleep with loose bedding or plush objects after the middle of the night wakenings.

The lesson learned is that parents need to keep a constant vigil on reducing sleeping risks for infants. This is particularly true when comforting an infant in the middle of the night. No matter how tired parents are, they need to make sure their infant is sleeping on his back with no blankets, pillows, or stuffed toys around. Make it a habit to check that infants sleeping environment is safe before going to bed.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on August 19, 2016

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