New parents often find themselves gazing into the sleeping face of their little one. It’s a sweet time to take in every feature, movement and noise while your newborn sleeps peacefully.

Sleep is also one of the few times new parents can take a little break – by sitting down to relax, jumping in a hot shower or tending to household chores. For some, it can be tempting to put your infant in a swing, bouncy seat or even set up a car seat nearby so you can keep a close eye on your baby. However, pediatricians caution that the only safe place for a baby to sleep is on his back on a flat, firm surface (like a crib or bassinet).

Why safe sleep is important

These measures are important in helping reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths.

SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than one-year-old. It typically happens when a baby is sleeping. The risk is greatest when babies are between two and three months and occurs more often in male infants than in females.

Race is also a factor in SIDS risk: African American babies are two to three times more likely than white babies to die from SIDs.

A simple step to keep your baby safe

Pediatricians began encouraging parents to put babies on their backs to sleep in the 1980s. Since then, sleep-related deaths among infants have been drastically reduced.

“We do a lot in medicine to get just a five to 10% improvement in health outcomes,” says Stuart Taylor, MD, pediatrician with Adventist Health Shady Grove Medical Center. “For the safe sleep and back-to-sleep campaigns to have the impact they have had is quite incredible.

“Research indicates that sleep-related deaths have dropped by about two-thirds,” he continues. “I see that in my personal experience as a pediatrician as well. Far fewer families and babies are impacted by SIDS.”

Safe sleep recommendations

To keep your little one safe day and night, follow these important recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

  • Place baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface, such as a crib or bassinet, with a tight-fitting sheet.
  • Avoid using soft bedding, crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. Crib and sleep areas should be empty.
  • Keep baby in your bedroom for at least the first six months, and preferably up to one year.
  • Never sleep with your baby in your bed or your arms.

Many parents – including first-timers and ones with multiple children – are surprised to learn baby should stay in their bedroom for six months to one year. Research has found that babies who bunk with parents are less likely to die from SIDS. Reasons aren’t clear, but experts believe babies sleep lighter near moms or dads, waking themselves up more easily and avoiding deep sleep that may lead to SIDS.

Reduce the risk of SIDS

Safe sleep isn’t the only way to help lower the risk of SIDs for your little one. The AAP also recommends parents take certain steps to keep their little one safe, including:

  • Breastfeed
  • Offer a pacifier at naptimes and bedtimes
  • Do not use commercial products, including monitors or positioners, that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS
  • Vaccinate your baby at the recommended intervals
  • Daily, supervised tummy time can encourage development and gross motor skills

Talk to your pediatrician about any questions you have on how to keep your baby safe when sleeping.