How To Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe   

How To Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe

Small baby sleeping peacefully and safely in their crib.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Pakkay Ngai, M.D.
Chee Chun Tan, M.D.

Sleep is natural; we all do it. Many of us develop sleep habits over the years. Some good and others not so much. But there can be “wrong” ways for babies to sleep.

Certain infant sleep positions or parental habits increase the risk of death for babies. According to the CDC, about 3,500 babies die in their sleep every year, often due to unsafe practices.

Some parents aren’t familiar with the current safe sleep practices for babies. They may listen to outdated advice from their own parents instead of asking a pediatrician.

Following experts’ advice about sleep for babies helps reduce the risk of sleep-related deaths. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), unintentional suffocation or accidental strangulation are common causes.

  • Loose bedding may cover a baby’s nose and mouth, leading to suffocation. 
  • A co-sleeping parent may roll on top of a baby, smothering instead of protecting.

Our pediatric sleep experts recommend these crucial practices to follow and habits to avoid:

Practices That Encourage Safe Baby Sleep

Follow these safe sleep practices for your baby whenever you put them down to rest:

  • Place your baby to sleep on their back every time they go to sleep
  • Use a crib, bassinet or play yard that meets safety guidelines
  • If you have a crib, use a firm mattress
  • Put your baby’s crib in your bedroom, so that you can monitor their sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this for at least six months
  • Dress your baby in pajamas or a wearable sleep blanket that won’t overheat them
  • Breastfeed your baby; this helps to lower the risk of SIDS
  • Consider offering your baby a pacifier during sleep; for breastfed babies, wait until nursing is well established
  • Offer your baby “tummy time” during waking hours to strengthen their core muscles
  • Set an alarm when night-feeding your baby, so you don’t fall asleep together
  • Teach every caregiver who watches your baby (including relatives) to follow safe sleep practices

“Remember that daytime naps count as sleep for babies,” pediatric pulmonologist and sleep expert, Chee Chun Tan, M.D. says. “Every single time that your baby sleeps, be sure to follow safe sleep practices.”

Habits to Avoid That Increase the Risk of SIDS

Avoid practicing any of these risky habits, which may increase the risk of sleep-related death. 


  • Place your baby to sleep on their stomach or side
  • Share your bed with your baby
  • Fall asleep with your baby on a couch, easy chair, waterbed or air mattress
  • Let your baby sleep all night in an infant car seat, if they fell asleep on a car ride home
  • Line your baby’s crib with crib bumpers
  • Include pillows, blankets, other soft bedding or stuffed animals in your baby’s crib
  • Swaddle your baby once they are old enough to turn over by themselves
  • Overdress your baby in too many layers, which may cause overheating
  • Put a hat on your baby for bedtime or naptime
  • Use an inclined sleeper, wedge or other device that keeps your baby from sleeping flat on their back
  • Allow anyone to smoke while they’re around your baby

Be consistent with your baby’s sleep habits to help reduce the risk of SIDS.

“Don’t bed-share or use a stomach-sleeping position some of the time, even if it’s what your baby would prefer,” says Pakkay Ngai, M.D., pediatric sleep medicine specialist at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Follow the recommended practices whenever you put your baby to sleep, day or night.”

“Being a new parent can be exhausting, especially if your baby has difficulty sleeping, but remember these safe sleep practices are so important to keep them safe,” concludes Dr. Ngai.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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