Sleeping safely

For the first 6 months of your baby's life the safest place for them to sleep is in a cot and in the same room as the person looking after them for all sleeps.

Sadly, every year a small number of babies die suddenly and unexpectedly in their sleep. Sometimes a cause is found, such as an underlying health condition, but often there's no obvious reason.

You may hear the terms sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) which used to be called cot death.

Sudden unexpected death in infancy

SUDI happens most often during sleep at any time, day or night. Doctors don’t yet know what causes it but it’s most likely to happen in the first 6 months. Babies born early and underweight and twins or multiple babies are more at risk.

What increases the risk of SUDI?

SUDI is at increased risk of happening if you:

  • sleep with your baby in an armchair or on the sofa
  • share a bed with your baby and you or your partner smoke
  • share a bed with your baby and you or your partner have been drinking alcohol or have been taking drugs
  • smoke or smoked when you were pregnant or lived with someone who did

SUDI is at increased risk of happening if your baby:

  • is put on their tummy or side
  • gets too warm
  • sleeps on a soft mattress
  • sleeps in another room during the day or night, where you can’t see them
  • sleeps sitting up or not completely flat, such as in a car seat, as their head can roll forwards and affect how they’re breathing
  • was born before 37 weeks and/or born weighing less than 2.5 kg

Breastfeeding your baby reduces the risks of SUDI

Helping your baby sleep safely

Baby sleeping in cot
Always tuck your baby in with blankets across their chest and under their arms NHS Health Scotland

For the first 6 months the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot, crib or moses basket in your room beside your bed and in the same room as you for all sleeps. You'll also be close by if they need a feed or cuddle.

You can help your baby get a good sleep and stay as safe as possible by:

  • always putting them to sleep flat on their back on a firm flat mattress, and putting them on their back again if they roll over
  • tucking them in with blankets across their chest and under their arms
  • always putting them feet first at the bottom of the cot so they can’t wriggle down and get caught under the blankets
  • removing any bumpers, pillows or soft toys from the cot as these can cause your baby to overheat or affect your baby's breathing if they're too close to their face
  • making sure they don't get too hot or cold - check their temperature by feeling their stomach or the back of their neck, and don’t go by hands and feet as they'll often feel cold
  • keeping their head uncovered when they’re sleeping and taking off any swaddling or sleeping bag if they're in bed with you
  • taking your baby out of their car seat when they’re not travelling, and from a bouncy seat, swing or nest if they’re asleep, as their head can roll forward if they're not sleeping flat which can affect their breathing
  • making your home smoke-free, and keeping your baby away from cigarette smoke

If your baby uses a dummy, use it for every sleep. If you're breastfeeding, wait at least 4 weeks before giving your baby a dummy.

Make sure that any other family or friends who may look after your baby know how to put your baby down for a sleep safely.

Never put yourself in a position that you can fall asleep with your baby in an armchair or on the sofa as this increases the risk of SUDI.

Sharing a bed with your baby

Adult beds aren't designed for babies. Before you bed-share, consider whether you think it's a safe place for your baby to sleep.

Mothers do sometimes bed-share when breastfeeding, however, without some planning and thought it can be very dangerous.

If you’re thinking about bed-sharing, talk to your midwife, health visitor or family nurse about how to reduce the risks for your baby.

Baby Sleep Information has more information about bed-sharing

When your baby should always sleep separately

It’s never safe to share a bed with your baby if:

  • you or your partner have had alcohol or taken drugs (legal or illegal)
  • you smoked when you were pregnant
  • you or your partner is a smoker
  • your baby's small or was born early
  • you or your partner are overly tired - less than 4 hours sleep in previous 24 hours

Your baby should sleep separately in their cot in these situations.

How much sleep's normal?

There’s no normal amount of sleep and some babies sleep more than others. New babies sleep a lot – sometimes as much as 18 hours a day for the first month or so. But your baby probably won’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time to begin with.

If your baby seems unusually sleepy they might be unwell. Always trust your instincts and get medical advice if you’re worried.

Don’t expect your baby to sleep several times a day and wake only for feeds and to smile, there will be some crying and grumbling.

Crying

When your baby cries and you go to them and comfort them, you're teaching them the world's a safe place. This helps them to develop the skills to sleep through the night.

How to soothe a crying baby

Plagiocephaly

Sometimes babies develop a flatter area either at the back of or on one side of their head. This is called plagiocephaly.

Plagiocephaly usually gets better on its own if your baby's spending less time lying down.

More about plagiocephaly


Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.