For the first 6 months of your baby's life the safest place for them to sleep is in a cot 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 term sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) which used to be called cot death.
Sudden infant death syndrome
SIDS 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 SIDS?
SIDS 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
SIDS 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 SIDS
Helping your baby sleep safely
Since the Back to Sleep campaign began in 1991, the rate of SIDS has dropped by 80%.
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 out 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.
Do not sleep on a sofa or chair
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 SIDS by 50% (Source: Baby Sleep Info Source and the Lullaby Trust).
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. Check that:
- your baby cannot fall out of the bed
- your baby cannot get trapped between the mattress and the wall
- your adult bedding can be kept away from your baby
- other children and pets will not be in the bed at the same time as your baby
Mothers do sometimes bed-share when breastfeeding, however, without some planning and thought it can be very dangerous.
If you are breastfeeding while lying down, make sure your baby cannot roll onto their front. Try and keep your baby on their back, or move them onto their back once they have been fed.
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 Info Source 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.
Unusually sleepy baby
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.
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.
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.
25 January 2023
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