Safe Sleep for Baby: Putting Popular Myths to Rest
Each year on average, 3,400 babies younger than 12 months die, suddenly and unexpectedly, while sleeping. Many parents are aware of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but with lots of conflicting information out there—including advice from friends and family—it’s hard to tell fact from myth when it comes to sleep safety.
Our experts are here to help put safe sleep myths to rest, and give you tips to ensure that your little one gets good, safe sleep.
In this article:
What is SUID? Is it the same as SIDS?
“If you’re a new parent or are expecting a child, you may have already heard a lot about SIDS,” says Sarah Lazarus, DO, a pediatric emergency department physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “What we don’t talk about as commonly is SUID, or sudden unexpected infant deaths. SIDS is actually a type of SUID, but there are other types, too.”
Types of sudden unexpected infant deaths include:
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed (ASSB)
- Unknown cause of death
Here are some SUID fast facts for parents to keep in mind:
- The risk for SIDS is highest for babies younger than 6 months.
- SUID rates are higher in non-Hispanic Black infants and slightly more common in males than females.
- Factors that increase the risk for SUID include mom smoking, baby not being properly vaccinated and poor prenatal care.
The ABCs of safe sleep
Putting baby to sleep safely is a matter of getting back to basics. Don’t worry about fancy gadgets or old wives’ tales—just focus on the ABCs of safe sleep:
- Put your baby to sleep alone. “Snuggling is a great way to bond with your baby, but bed sharing is never safe,” says Lazarus. Sharing a bed or napping on the couch puts your baby at risk for suffocation.
- Place your baby on their back. Your baby's neck muscles aren't strong enough to prevent suffocation if they sleep on their stomach, so being flat on their back on a firm surface is the only safe way to sleep.
- Ensure your baby's sleep space is clear. Their crib mattress should be firm, covered in only a fitted sheet, and the crib should be empty. Blankets, toys, lovies, bumper pads and other items can all cause suffocation.
Safe sleep myths and facts
“It’s true what they say about parenting taking a village,” says Lazarus. “While we’re all grateful for support from friends, family and loved ones, sometimes their advice isn’t always what’s best for baby.”
To cut through information overload, we’re separating facts from myths when it comes to sleep safety.
- Fact: Breastfeeding—even partial breastfeeding—offers extra protection against SIDS. If you’re able to breastfeed, breast milk helps boost babies' immune systems and brain development. After feeding, move your child to their separate sleeping space.
- Myth: Babies with reflux are safer in an inclined position because they could choke on spit-up. Put simply, inclined sleeping is never safer for babies. Infants' gag reflexes naturally protect them as they sleep, and the inclined position actually increases the risk of a blocked airway.
- Myth: Bumper pads make a crib safe. Bumper pads can lead to suffocation, strangulation or entrapment. That's why it's important to keep any soft bedding or toys out of your little one's crib.
- Myth: Letting babies sleep in their car seat (outside the car) or swing is completely safe. Sleeping in a car seat outside the car (i.e., outside of its base) or in a swing positions your baby at an unsafe incline. At an incline, baby’s airway can be blocked, making it hard or impossible to breathe.
Crib safety tips and the perfect sleep space
Parents should always put baby to sleep on their back, alone, in a clear crib. Here are some additional tips for creating the perfect sleeping environment for your little one.
- Dress 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.
- Don't place cribs or bassinets near windows, draperies, blinds or wall-mounted decorative accessories with cords.
- Don't hang anything, like a mobile or light, on or above the crib with a cord.
As an extra precaution, check out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's information on product recalls and crib standards.
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.