Safe Sleeping

When it comes to getting your baby to sleep, there are no hard or fast rules for quick results. Sorry about that! You may find your baby slips naturally into good sleeping habits. Or you may find that they refuse to sleep well, even when they are several months old. Try to remember, on those nights that never seem to end, that baby went to sleep for 40 weeks next to Mums heartbeat.

Sometimes a recording of white noise will help. Babies also find Mum’s smell comforting – why not take off your top and lay it beneath the sheet baby sleeps on? Top it off with a bunny rug wrap, and you have a recipe for at least some sleep.

Safe sleeping recommendations

SIDS and Kids recommend the following six rules for sleeping baby safely:

  • Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side
  • Keep baby smoke free before birth and after
  • Sleep baby with head and face uncovered
  • Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day
  • Sleep baby in their individual safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months
  • Breastfeed baby

Some tips to help to stick to the rules and reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, also known as SUDI, or sudden unexpected death in infancy) (9):

  • Avoid exposing your baby to tobacco smoke before and after birth. This exposure includes secondary smoke from clothing. Have family or visitors who smoke do so outside and invest in a ‘smoking jacket’ or designated overshirt.
  • Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day: safe cot, safe mattress, safe bedding and secure sleeping place.
  • Put your baby’s feet at the bottom of the cot. That way, she can’t wriggle down and get caught under her blankets.
  • Use a firm, clean mattress that fits snugly in the cot.
  • Place no additional mattresses or extra padding in travel or portacots.
  • Tuck in bedclothes securely so bedding is not loose.
  • Keep quilts, doonas, duvets, pillows, cot bumpers, sheepskins and soft toys out of the cot or sleeping place. Cellular blankets are an excellent choice for newborn babies. They are light, allow airflow and help keep your baby’s temperature regular – neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Don’t let your baby get too hot; the ideal temperature for your baby’s room is between 16 and 20º C – a room thermometer can help with this.

Safe sleeping vs co-sleeping

If your baby isn’t feeling well or you’re worried about them, seek medical advice promptly. It’s not just babies that vary. Parents do, too. Some can’t face being sleep deprived and need to get their baby into a routine quickly. Others are happy to have their baby in their bed until she is ready for their cot. When your baby sleeps well, so do you. Do all you can to ensure your little one gets enough sleep every night.

Provide a safe, comfortable environment to sleep in, without distractions from the rest of the house and under the confines of a routine, and you’ll find that a good sleeping regimen can work wonders for everybody. While it’s lovely to have your baby with you for a cuddle or a feed, it’s safest to put your baby back in her cot before you go back to sleep.

There are risks associated with co-sleeping that you need to be aware of to make an informed choice about your baby’s sleeping arrangements. For many families sharing a bed with their baby provides positive bonding, breastfeeding and settling experiences.

However, sleeping with a baby on the same sleep surface increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) (10). It is for this reason that your wish to co-sleep with your baby may not be supported while you are in hospital. When you go home, the choice is yours. Please make yourself aware of the evidence around the risks involved in co-sleeping with your baby.

SIDS and Kids (and most health services) recommend that babies sleep in their own safe sleeping space in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months. There appears to be no increased risk of SIDS while sharing a sleep surface with a baby during feeding, cuddling, or settling. However, the baby must be returned to their cot or safe sleeping surface before the adult falls asleep.

What increases the risk?

Things that do increase the risk of SIDS when co-sleeping are – if either parent is a smoker has consumed alcohol or taken drugs or is very tired. The risks increase when sleeping with a baby on a sofa, waterbed or beanbag. The risks are also higher if the baby is sleeping alone in an adult bed with doonas or pets.

Lighting and music

Lighting and music in the baby’s room is a personal preference. If these were a part of your routine before the baby was born, they might help to relax baby and promote sleep now they are a newborn.


Babies may develop a persistent flat spot, at the back of, or on one side of their head. This development is called plagiocephaly. It will not affect your baby’s brain. It sometimes happens when babies lie in the same position for long periods. While it may look odd, it is cosmetic and is only temporary.

Baby’s skull bones are still reasonably flexible and will take a rounder shape when the baby spends less time in one position. To help avoid this, make sure your baby has supervised ‘tummy time’. It is not advisable to let them sleep in this position, though. If you are worried and want more information, ask your midwife or child health nurse.


Dr Janelle McAlpine (PhD), Clinical Midwife
Photo by Ekaterina Pokrovsky, used under licence from