Creating a Safe Sleep Space for Your Baby

Baby lies on their back in a safe sleep space

Setting up your baby’s nursery is an exciting step for expecting parents—it means your little one is almost here! As you think about style and comfort, be sure to make safety a priority, too. Creating a safe sleep space will reduce your child’s risk of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Between sleep sacks, cribs, baby monitors and more, it can be hard to know which sleep products are safe. That’s where we come in. Our expert guide to creating a safe sleep space will help you sleep soundly knowing your little one is sleeping safely.

As a new parent, you want your infant to sleep comfortably. Your instinct may be to fill their crib with cozy things like blankets, pillows and stuffed toys. While older kids and grown-ups may enjoy these snuggly comforts, they are not safe or necessary for babies.

Soft items can shape to your infant’s face, covering their mouth and nose. Since newborns aren’t strong enough to hold up their head or roll over, they can’t pull away from these soft items. To prevent suffocation, you’ll want to:

  • Start with a firm base. Whether it’s a bassinet, crib mattress or pack ’n play, your baby should always sleep on a flat, firm surface. Avoid adding items like soft mattress protectors to the firm surface. In fact, the only thing you should place under baby is a fitted sheet sized so it’s tight to the mattress. If your little one falls asleep on something soft (like your chest, the sofa or an adult mattress) or at an incline (in their car seat, swing or carrier), move them as quickly as you can to a flat, firm surface.
  • Keep it clear. The only thing you should put in your baby’s sleep space is … your baby! Keep all other items out of and away from your crib or bassinet. This means no sheets (except the fitted sheet underneath the baby), blankets, toys, lovies, pillows or sleep positioners.
  • Avoid overheating. A common concern for new parents is that their baby may be cold while sleeping. In fact, you want to prevent your infant from sleeping too hot, since overheating has been linked to SIDS. In colder months, you can use a sleep sack for a little extra warmth, but there’s no need for weighted or heavy blankets, which can be a suffocation risk. The newest recommendations state your baby doesn’t even need a hat once they leave the nursery!
  • Secure items that could fall. Many parents enjoy picking out the perfect artwork and furniture for their nursery, especially during the nesting phase. Be sure to anchor furniture to the walls to avoid tipping and hang artwork up and away from your infant’s sleep space. This is especially important as your baby grows and can reach for and grab items hanging near their crib.
  • Share your space, not your bed. Keeping your baby close at night may give you comfort, and it can make overnight feedings that much easier. But remember, the safest option for a baby is to sleep alone. So, rather than bringing them into your bed, simply bring their sleep space into your room. Set up a bassinet or crib nearby and take comfort in knowing they are close by and sleeping safely.

Now that we know what should and shouldn’t be in your crib, let’s look at some things that shouldn’t be on it, either.

Crib accessories are very popular, typically because they are stylish or claim to keep your infant safe. Many of these trendy items are hazards that can lead to suffocation or strangulation.

Are crib bumpers safe?

Research shows crib bumpers increase the risk of serious injury or death. Many babies are unable to pull away from a soft bumper pad, which can lead to suffocation, strangulation or entrapment. In fact, the Safe Sleep for Babies Act prohibits the manufacture and sale of crib bumpers in the United States.

And the truth is, crib bumpers aren’t needed. Before crib safety was regulated, many parents used crib bumpers or bumper pads to prevent their baby from getting stuck between crib slats that were too far apart. Today’s cribs must meet stringent safety standards, so the slats no longer pose a danger. If you’re looking for a safe crib bumper alternative, the safest option is to avoid them altogether.

Are crib monitors safe?

Crib monitors are an important safety tool that give many new parents peace of mind. However, cords from crib monitors have been known to cause strangulation. If you decide to use a crib monitor, place it at least 3 feet away from any part of your baby’s sleep space. Never attach a crib monitor to the inside of the crib or on the rim or rungs.

The same rules apply to any items with cords. Ensure your baby’s sleep space is at least 3 feet away from drapes, blinds, lights or wall-mounted accessories that have cables attached.

Are crib mobiles safe?

Crib mobiles do not pose an inherent safety risk—if they’re used correctly. Hang your mobile high enough that your baby cannot grab or pull on it, even after they’re able to stand up. Avoid any mobiles that have ribbons or strings that can cause strangulation, and be sure to install them securely so they cannot fall.

Mobiles sold in-store at major U.S. retailers should comply with safety standards. Be sure to register your mobile so you’ll be updated about any recalls or safety concerns.

New products are constantly being marketed for safe sleep. No matter the product, it’s important to stay informed. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is a trusted source for information about safety recalls and hazards. Use their recall search tool to check the safety of your sleep space products, and sign up for their newsletter to get important safety information updates.

If you are thinking about painting your baby’s crib or using an older painted crib, there are some important factors to consider.

  • Check the ingredients. Many paints contain harsh chemicals that can be harmful to your baby’s health. When considering paint for your baby’s crib, it’s important to choose a product that’s nontoxic.
  • Look out for lead. Fortunately, lead-based paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978. However, lead-based paint can still be found in millions of homes, either on the walls or furniture. Even small amounts of lead or lead dust can cause severe harm in children under the age of 6 . If you suspect your crib was painted with lead-based paint, be sure to strip it down to the surface and repaint it. While this may be a fun DIY project, consider working with professionals who are experienced in safely removing lead-based paint.

When choosing a baby-safe paint for your crib, check the label to ensure it’s:

  • Free of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are toxic gasses that are released when paint dries, causing that new paint smell. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs may cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and liver or kidney damage.
  • Free of APEs. Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are a group of chemicals that can disrupt the body’s natural hormonal process.
  • Not “antimicrobial.” Antimicrobial paints contain preservatives that keep the paint fresh. This may sound like a good thing, but many of these paints also contain unnecessary additives that are harmful, especially to young people.

Traveling with a baby can be tricky, but it’s just as important to create a safe sleep space on the go as it is at home. Keep these tips in mind while traveling:

  • Take the rules of safe sleep with you. Traveling often means shifting routines and disrupted sleep schedules. Be sure to practice the ABCs of safe sleep no matter where you are or where your little one is sleeping.
  • Find out what’s available. Many hotels and vacation rentals can provide you with a crib or pack ’n play. Call ahead to find out what options are available, and ask if you can add one to your reservation. If you’re visiting family or friends, find out if anyone has a bassinet, crib or pack ’n play you can borrow during your stay.
  • Take your safe sleep space on the road. If you’re traveling by car, bring your safe sleep space with you! Whenever possible, your crib is the best option. A pack ’n play is a good alternative when space is tight.

Read on to get answers to your most popular safe sleep questions.

Dad creates a safe sleep space for his baby

What are the ABCs of safe sleep?

  • A is for ALONE. Never share a bed or nap on the couch with your baby.
  • B is for BACK. Always place your baby on their back to sleep.
  • C is for CLEAR. Clear the crib of any items, such as bumper pads, blankets, toys and lovies. Cover the mattress in only a fitted sheet.

Is it safe for babies to sleep on their stomach? When is it safe for babies to sleep on their stomach?

Babies under 1 year of age should always sleep on their back. This reduces the risk of SUID and SIDS. Once your baby is able to roll over on their own and is no longer swaddled, it’s OK to leave them on their tummy. But lay them down on their back to start.

Are pack and plays safe for sleep?

The short answer is yes! Just like cribs, portable play yards are fitted with a flat, firm mattress in the bottom, which is a perfect sleep surface for a baby. If you like, you can use a fitted sheet, but avoid soft items like blankets during sleep time.

Is it safe for babies to sleep with a pacifier?

Using a pacifier has been proved to reduce the risk of SIDS. The AAP recommends offering one at night and during naps. The pacifier can be loose in their crib. To minimize the risk of strangulation, never clip a pacifier to a baby’s clothes or hang it from the crib.

How should I dress my baby for sleep?

Dress your baby lightly for sleep (overheating has been linked to SIDS). Set the room temperature in a cool range that’s comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. If they need an extra layer in colder months, use a sleep sack as a safe alternative to blankets. The latest recommendations state that babies should not wear hats during sleep time once they’re home from the nursery.

Are sleep sacks safe? Are weighted sleep sacks safe?

Sleep sacks are a safe alternative to blankets that can keep your baby warm in chillier months. Weighted products, such as weighted sleep sacks, blankets and swaddles, are not safe for infants. They can increase the risk of suffocation and overheating, which increase the risk of SIDS.

Ready for more? Our experts help you put popular safe sleep myths to rest.

If your child has an injury or is showing signs of illness, call your doctor or visit an urgent care center. If your child has a life-threatening injury or illness, is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, call 911 and/or visit an emergency department immediately.