SIDS stories, in which babies die mysteriously while asleep give many a new parent nightmares. But there are steps you can take to create the safest possible sleeping environment for your baby — and to help yourself rest at ease. Here we've rounded up the key sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics for preventing SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and other sleep-related infant deaths.
1. Back Sleeping
Babies up to 12 months old should sleep on their backs. However, if your baby is able to roll from tummy to back and back to tummy, he can be left on his tummy if he rolls over in his sleep.
2. Firm Sleep Surface
Babies should sleep on a firm sleeping surface – never a chair, sofa, cushion, or water bed. Cover a crib mattress with a fitted sheet, and don't use a crib with drop-side rails (see also: 5 Drop-Side Crib Alternatives). When babies fall asleep in a stroller, car seat, swing, or carrier, the AAP recommends moving them to a firm sleep surface ASAP.
3. No Soft Bedding or Objects
"Pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, bumper pads, and stuffed toys can cause your baby to suffocate," explains the AAP. After 12 months of age, however, "these objects pose little risk to healthy babies." See also When to Give Baby a Pillow
4. Room-Sharing Without Bed-Sharing
Bed-sharing with your baby puts her at risk of SIDS, suffocation, and strangulation. As a result, the AAP recommends keeping your baby's crib or bassinet within an arm's reach of your bed. For more information on the co-sleeping debate, see 3 Reasons to Avoid Co-Sleeping and The Case for Co-Sleeping.
5. Avoid Overheating
Does your baby sweat in her sleep, or does her chest feel hot? She may be too warm. As a rule of thumb, the AAP suggests dressing your baby "in no more than one extra layer than you would wear."
6. Routine Immunizations
While immunizations have become a hot button issue in recent years, the AAP shares that "evidence suggests that immunizations may have a protective effect against SIDS."
7. Using a Pacifier
The AAP also recommends offering your child a pacifier at naps and bedtime, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of SIDS. Breastfeeding moms are advised to wait to offer a pacifier until breastfeeding is going well. See also Thumb vs. Pacifier: Which is Better for Your Baby?
Studies show that breastfeeding your baby can help reduce the risk of SIDS. (Related: 5 Tips for Breastfeeding Moms for Getting Your Baby to Sleep Without Nursing.)
9. Avoid Smoke Exposure
Keep your baby away from smoke and people who smoke. If you smoke, keep your car and home smoke-free, and of course, try to quit.
10. Do Not Use Products that Claim to Prevent SIDS
This recommendation may surprise you, but the AAP advises parents not to use wedges, positioners, special mattresses, and specialized sleep surfaces that claim to reduce the risk of SIDs. Not only have these products not been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS, but some infants have also suffocated while using them.