Safe Sleep for Infants – Do’s and Don’ts

Safe Sleep for Infants

We have come a long way with educating parents on the do’s and don’ts of safe sleep for infants. Just think, moms slept with their babies for the first three months to keep them warm (houses were not heated very well back in the 1800’s and earlier, so this was the reason for co-sleeping with baby).  

We’ve even had dangerous and bizarre cribs that were recommend and popular. The most bizarre crib was what they called the window cage. Not too long after American pediatrician Luther Emmett Holt insisted in his book The Care and Feeding of Children that “fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood” and that “those who sleep out of doors are stronger children” these window cages started to emerge. 

No doubt, they would not meet today’s guidelines for safe sleep for infants.

Eleanor Roosevelt used one in their townhouse window for their daughter, Anna, until a neighbor threatened to report her for child cruelty. “This was a shock to me,” Roosevelt wrote in her autobiography, “for I thought I was being a most modern mother.” (SOURCE – Smithsonian)

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the cage style, open-air crib, there was the Air Crib in 1944 — a completely enclosed crib with three solid walls and a ceiling, and a safety glass front, that allowed both temperature and humidity to be controlled for baby. (SOURCE – Smithsonian)  This contraption may meet today’s safe sleep for infant guidelines since it hosts a thin, firm,  flat mattress.

The Skinner Air Crib

Looking at these past normality’s, we have come a long way, although we only recently have seen major changes in safe sleep for infant’s education.  With parents taking action in only the last two decades. 

The history of safe sleep for infants first started back in 1969 when scientists start applying the term “sudden infant death syndrome” (SIDS) to infants who died for no apparent reason while sleeping.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, research proved the link between stomach sleeping and SIDS. In the 90’s, the US Surgeon General issues a policy statement about proper safe infant sleep practices. 

It states “healthy babies should be placed on their back or side to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS.”

By 1996, the safe sleep policy for infants changed to  placing baby wholly on their backs to sleep as the safest sleeping position.

In 1997, bed sharing studies confirm that sharing a bed with a baby increases the risk of infant sleep related deaths.  The safe sleep policy for infants was amended to eliminate bed sharing.  Room sharing was still recommended.

By the late 80’s, the “Back to Sleep Campaign” begins by a small organization in Michigan devoted to safe sleep for infants.  There goal is to decrease infant mortality rates.

In the 2000’s, a lot of workshops and education began designed to educate young parents and caregivers on safe infant sleep recommendations.   The World Wide Web helped quickly spread and amplify infant safe sleep messaging and practices.


We still have a ways to go in supporting safe sleep for infants. We still see photos of moms sharing a bed with their baby, babies in cribs with blankets and toys, bumper pads in cribs, and siblings sleeping together.  

DO’s and DON’Ts for Baby’s Safe Sleep:

DON’T put anything in the crib except properly dressed baby.

Pillows, blankets, bumpers, toys, and other items should NEVER be in the crib while baby is sleeping.   These items will only put your infant’s safe sleep at risk.  It’s good to just not have these items ever in the crib. These items can easily block baby’s airways.

Babies are not able to move themselves or roll over in the first few months.  This creates a dangerous situation where they cannot help themselves if they cannot breathe.  These items can also trap harmful carbon dioxide which has been linked to many infant sleep related deaths.

DON’T use a traditional swaddle blanket.

Swaddling creates a safe sleep environment to keep baby warm instead of using blankets – but not all swaddles are created equal! Traditional swaddle blankets can easily come unraveled and cover baby’s face which is very scary – especially when parents are sleeping at night themselves and cannot watch of check baby every moment.

Safe sleep recommendations warn that baby’s arms are no longer bound in a swaddle once they show any signs of beginning to roll.  Infants normally begin to roll from back to tummy at around four months.  However, they can surprise us and roll much sooner.

The best swaddles are the swaddles that require no wrapping. The Woombie baby swaddle pioneered the no-wrap, peanut-shaped swaddle years ago.  The Woombie is still our favorite go-to swaddle company. We love how easy it is to swaddle baby – just put baby in and zip! The 4-way stretch fabric gently cocoons baby snugly imitating the feeling of the womb yet baby can stretch naturally.  It’s perfect for safe sleep for infants during nap and at night.

DON’T place baby on stomach to sleep.

Safe Infant sleep policy dictates that back is best when it comes to baby’s sleep. However, some babies are tummy sleepers and always end up sleeping on their stomachs no matter how many times you place them on their backs. Also, there comes a time when your baby will begin to roll, and your baby may not know how to roll back over. 

Becoming face-down on the mattress poses a risk of suffocation.  Also, just being on their tummy poses a risk of rebreathing their exhaled carbon dioxide..

Your best solution is to choose a breathe-through crib mattress – this is the safest type of “breathable” crib mattress.  It’s a mattress your baby can literally breathe through normally, even if face straight-down all night.  The SafeSleep® Completely Breathe-Through Crib Mattress meets and exceeds all safe infant sleep policy guidelines. 

SafeSleep® has been tested and proves to have 100% oxygen rich air when a baby is breathe through it face down.  The perforated topper sits over a hollowed airspace allowing baby to breathe right through the mattress without trapping carbon dioxide. There’s no sheet required, and it is made from recycled and eco-friendly materials.

Need help getting baby to sleep through the night?  Read, How to Get a Baby to Sleep Through the Night.

DON’T co-sleep with baby.

A baby that won’t sleep is exhausting.  Resorting to un-safe infant sleep practices like co-sleeping is too dangerous and not worth the risk. It’s important to develop healthy safe sleep for infant habits from the beginning – at around four months babies start to learn and form their sleep habits.

It’s very important that babies know how to fall asleep on their own and to self-soothe.  If we rock baby to sleep every time this creates a sleep crutch that baby depends on to fall asleep.

Waking up every 1-2 hours all night long to rock baby back to sleep will disrupt your entire household and life. I’ve been there and it’s not pretty. So do yourself and your baby a favor by letting them fall asleep on their own as a baby.

If you find yourself in a situation where your baby does not know how to fall asleep on their own – it’s okay. You can use proven baby sleep training methods to do this. Work with a certified child sleep consultant to help you – we recommend The Baby Sleep Whisperer.

When we worked with a sleep consultant, our son went from waking up every 1-2 hours all night long needing me to rock him back to sleep to sleeping 6 hours straight in his crib on day one of implementing the sleep plan. He’s a rock-star sleeper to this day at age 3.5!

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