ABCs of child sleep safety

(Editor's note: This was originally written and published in April 2009, but because of recent events, the Kokomo Perspective thought it would be an important story to re-run.)

Catching some ZZZs is easier said than done for parents of a new baby. But parents and baby alike will sleep safe and sound if one rule is remembered. And that rule is as easy as ABC: Place a baby ALONE on its BACK in a CRIB at night.

As a new parent, it's tempting to keep a child in bed with you at night. That's the best way to make sure the baby's safe, right?

WRONG!

"We just had a baby recently die of Sudden Infant Death syndrome because of the mother rolling over on the baby," said Kathy Markley, coordinator for Gear Up for Safety.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found some 64 infants and children under age 2 die each year in the United States while sleeping in the same bed as their parents.

That's because, in a grownup bed, the baby's breathing can be obstructed when facedown on a pillowtop mattress, against heavy blankets or pillows, or when too close to mom or dad.

Never, never, never let a baby sleep in the bed with you, Markley said.

Yes, years ago, your mother may have done that with you, but that doesn't mean it was safe. Years ago, parents didn't buckle their children in safety seats either.

Never, never, never put a baby on its stomach to sleep, Markley said.

Again, it may be true that your mother may have done that with you, but that doesn't mean it was safe.

With time, we learn new information. As we learn, we need to change what we do. And what the medical community has learned over the past eight to 10 years is that letting a baby sleep on its stomach can contribute to SIDS, Markley said.

She pointed out, though, that in order to strengthen muscles and develop the ability to crawl, a baby does need to spend some time on its stomach. Make that when the baby is awake and playing.

Some fear that a baby will choke if he or she sleeps on his or her back.

No. Healthy babies automatically swallow or cough up fluids. There has been no increase in choking or other problems for babies who sleep on their backs.

It's tempting for a parent to look at sleeping baby and think, "It looks cold." And then pile on the blankets.

For a sleeping baby, heat can be deadly.

"A baby being too warm is just as bad as putting it on its stomach," Markley said.

The temperature of the room the baby is sleeping in should be 68-72 degrees.

You may think you're comforting a baby by placing its favorite teddy bear in the crib, but you're actually endangering the baby.

A stuffed animal can obstruct a baby's airways, Markley said.

Bumper pads around a crib make the bed look cozy and safe, but they're dangerous, too, she said.

"There should be nothing else in the crib with a baby," Markley said. "There should be a flat sheet on the mattress, nothing cushy, nothing heavy. Preferably, there shouldn't be a blanket, except a receiving blanket or one of similar thickness over the baby. Tuck the blanket around the baby so it can't roll over and obstruct its airways. Don't use bumper pads."

About SIDS

Health-care providers don't know exactly what causes SIDS, but they do know:

• Babies sleep safer on their backs. Babies who sleep on their stomachs are much more likely to die of SIDS than babies who sleep on their backs.

• Sleep surface matters. Babies who sleep on or under soft bedding are more likely to die of SIDS.

•Every sleep time counts. Babies who usually sleep on their backs but who are then placed on their stomachs, such as for a nap, are at very high risk for SIDS. So it's important for everyone who cares for your baby to use the back sleep position for naps and at night.

Lower the risk

Here are 10 ways that you and others who care for your baby can reduce the risk of SIDS.

• Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night. The back sleep position is the safest, and every sleep time counts.

• Place your baby on a firm sleep surface, such as on a safety-approved crib mattress, covered by a fitted sheet. Never place your baby to sleep on pillows, quilts, sheepskins, or other soft surfaces.

• Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of your baby's sleep area. Don't use pillows, blankets, quilts, sheepskins, and pillow-like crib bumpers in your baby's sleep area, and keep any other items away from your baby's face.

• Do not allow smoking around your baby. Don't smoke before or after the birth of your baby, and don't let others smoke around your baby.

• Keep your baby's sleep area close to, but separate from, where you and others sleep. Your baby should not sleep in a bed or on a couch or armchair with adults or other children, but he or she can sleep in the same room as you. If you bring the baby into bed with you to breastfeed, put him or her back in a separate sleep area, such as a bassinet, crib, cradle, or a bedside cosleeper (infant bed that attaches to an adult bed) when finished.

• Think about using a clean, dry pacifier when placing the infant down to sleep, but don't force the baby to take it. (If you are breastfeeding your baby, wait until your child is 1 month old or is used to breastfeeding before using a pacifier.)

• Do not let your baby overheat during sleep. Dress your baby in light sleep clothing, and keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult.

• Avoid products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS because most have not been tested for effectiveness or safety.

• Do not use home monitors to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you have questions about using monitors for other conditions talk to your health care provider.

• Reduce the chance that flat spots will develop on your baby's head by providing tummy time when your baby is awake and someone is watching. Also, change the direction that your baby lies in the crib from one week to the next, and avoid too much time in car seats, carriers, and bouncers.