One of the defining experiences of parenthood is forgetting about everything else in the world while you watch your baby sleep. Almost hypnotic, a sleeping baby is the image of perfection – perfection that’s yours to hold and love and care for. But not just because of the compulsion to stand there and stare, possibly at the expense of your only chance in the day to shower, baby sleep is a big issue for many parents.
New babies face a big adjustment entering the world and often need help to get to sleep until they eventually learn to do this for themselves. Many new babies will sleep better when wrapped or swaddled, as this mimics the security of the womb and may help minimise waking from their inbuilt startle reflex (the Moro reflex). This reflex generally starts to disappear from about three months onwards, and for safety reasons, it’s essential to stop wrapping babies for sleep once they can roll, which is often from around four months old. The importance of safe sleeping can’t be overstated and should always be the first consideration in settling babies.
Safe sleeping guidelines
Safe sleeping practices and education have developed significantly in recent decades, and instances of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) have dropped dramatically during this time. Key recommendations for safe sleep are:
- Sleep baby on their back: this is the safest position for healthy babies, and babies sleeping on their backs are at significantly lower risk of SUDI than babies put to sleep on their tummy or side;
- Make sure baby’s face can’t be covered: minimise bedclothes, place baby with their feet at the end of the cot with the sheet firmly tucked under the end of the mattress so that it can’t cover baby’s face, or consider using a baby sleeping bag;
- Don’t allow baby to overheat: babies largely control their temperature through their face and head, so sleeping baby on their back with their face and head uncovered reduces the risk of overheating; and
- Use a safe cot: a cot should meet Australian safety standard AS/NZS 2172:2003 for cots or AS/NZS 2195:1999 for portable cots.
According to Red Nose (formerly SIDs and Kids), research shows that safe baby sleeping bags reduce the risk of bedclothes covering a baby’s face, keep baby’s temperature at a more constant level while sleeping and also reduce the risk of baby rolling onto their tummy until they are past the peak age for SUDI.
A safe baby sleeping bag is one that is the right size, with fitted neck and arm holes (so that the sleeping bag can’t come up over baby’s head), and doesn’t have a hood. You can find more information from Red Nose about baby sleeping bags here: https://rednose.com.au/article/benefits-of-using-a-safe-baby-sleeping-bag.
Sleep cues and associations
Often small babies are settled to sleep in arms, with rocking or through feeding. As your baby grows and learns to settle in their cot, a familiar routine involving consistent sleep cues and associations will provide comfort, and also help your baby learn to fall asleep on their own.
Wrapping your baby or dressing them in their sleeping bag often forms one of these associations, and sometimes babies will even start yawning or displaying their individual tired signs at the sight of their wrap or sleeping bag. This association and consistency is beneficial as it assists babies to understand and expect that sleep will follow the bedtime or sleep routine.
While wrapping and swaddling for the first few months after birth is common, some babies will resist all wrapping attempts, and may sleep better from the beginning in an appropriately-sized sleeping bag.
While it’s very natural to want to check in on your sleeping baby often in any case, to do more staring if nothing else, it can provide peace and assurance in the night to know that your baby is safe in their sleeping environment and snuggled contentedly in their sleeping bag.
More safe sleep resources
Red Nose provides detailed information about safe sleep at https://rednose.com.au/.
The Raising Children Network, supported by the Australia Government Department of Social Services, is a valuable and informative resource for parents, with information about safe sleep available at http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/safe_sleeping.html.
Elina Peedoson is a founder and manager of Nordlife – an Australian online boutique selling Scandinavian designers’ kids products – everything from clothes and dinnerware to bedding and nursery decor – and homeware.