There are few sights more beautiful than a slumbering baby or child. Not only do they embody tranquillity, but they also give you some peace and quiet! It doesn’t necessarily mean you have peace of mind, however.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to get your baby to sleep, there’s also the worry of where they’re sleeping.
You’re likely to wonder if they’ll climb out of the cot or get caught in the bars. Or, every parent’s nightmare, what about the risks of cot death?
There’s no shortage of answers: family and friends, health visitors, bed manufacturers and medical experts all offer advice on sleep safety.
Confusingly, this often conflicts. But rest assured that there are also tried-and-trusted measures, which reduce the risks. And once you know your child’s safely in the land of nod, you can sleep soundly, too.
What temperature should my baby’s room be?
The Lullaby Trust recommends that your baby’s room should not be too hot or too cold, with the risk of SIDS increasing in babies that overheat. Experts at the charity say that a room temperature of 16-20°C should be just right for a child with ‘light bedding or a lightweight well-fitting baby sleep bag that is comfortable and safe for sleeping babies’.
The charity also recommends that parents purchase a room thermometer so that they can accurately check the temperature of the room, whilst encouraging parents to read their baby’s behaviour as every little one is different and may be comfortable at different temperatures.
What should my baby sleep in?
Many parents start with a Moses basket or carrycot; both are portable and compact. For babies to sleep safely in either, use the same rules as for cots: ensure the mattress is a close fit, keep bedding light and put them with their feet at the bottom of the mattress so they can’t slip further under their blanket, and tuck the blanket around their chest.
Options for your baby to sleep in
Apart from price and personal taste, the other things that are important are whether the cot has one or two sides that can be dropped using just one hand, otherwise it’s tricky if you’re holding your baby. And look for a cot that has an adjustable base/mattress height as this will save you getting back pain from constantly bending over.
Great for carrying your baby around, but they don’t last long, probably up to six months, depending on how quickly they grow. You can buy stands for Moses baskets, but they’re quite light so probably not a good idea if you have a toddler or dog who could tip them over. Baskets are safe until your baby can roll over or weighs more than 7kg (15lb). After that, they’ll need something sturdier.
Cradles are ideal in the early weeks and months but, again, they can be knocked or pushed by bigger children or pets. Your baby may learn to rock himself as he grows, so lock the rocker once he’s asleep. They don’t always come with a stand or mattress, so be wise how you spend your cash.
A bit like a Moses basket only with a rocking stand. They’re good for saving space, but like Moses baskets they won’t last long.
Just like a cot but it turns into a child’s bed when the baby gets too old for a cot. It might seem like a good way of saving money, but by the time your child becomes big enough for a bed you might need to buy a new one.
This is a more flimsy version of a cot that’s good for travelling or even just as a temporary cot if you go to a friend’s for the night. It can also come in handy if you go out to somewhere that doesn’t have a child-friendly area and can act as a playpen.
If your mum has been saving your cot all these years ready to hand down to you for your children, just make sure it’s safe. This means that the gap between the slats must be no more than 6cm and none of them are loose to prevent injury.
Gail Johnson, Education and Professional Development Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, has this advice on buying a cot: ‘Check whether what you’re buying meets British safety standards and that if the cot has dropdown sides they’re secure. If you want to buy second-hand, that’s fine, but check that it’s clean and safe and also meets British safety standards and that it hasn’t been damaged. Likewise, if you buy a second-hand mattress, check that it fits the cot properly and that there are no gaps that could trap your baby.’
Things to look out for when buying a cot
Depending on design, your baby may use their cot for up to three years. In that time, they’ll acquire a range of skills, such as rolling, climbing and jumping! To ensure these vital skills can be developed in safety, their cot should have:
- Lockable castors, if it has any
- A close-fitting mattress. No more than two finger widths between it and the cot side
- A drop-side mechanism that can be locked when fully raised
- No horizontal bars to climb
- A mattress adjustment level, if it has one, that leaves 50cm (20in) between the top of the mattress and top of the cot at its lowest level and 20cm (8in) at its highest
What should go in the cot?
It’s important that the baby doesn’t get too hot or can easily slip under the covers, so it’s best to buy a couple of cellular blankets because they’re light. Remember that whatever you buy needs to be easy to wash too.
Are baby sleeping bags safe?
Baby sleeping bags are convenient, as long as they’re designed for regular night use and are small enough to stop your baby from sliding down into it.
The safest are those the baby wears like a garment, like Grobags, which have become really popular over the last few years and are recommended by the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID).
They’re designed to fit over the baby’s shoulders so they can’t slip down into them and risk their heads becoming covered and you don’t need to use any other bedding with them.
Like adult bedding there are different tog ratings and you choose which one to use and what the baby wears with it according to the temperature in the room.
It’s good to get a reliable room thermometer – the Grobag Egg is a popular choice, costing around £22, and it changes colour according to the temperature so you can see at a glance which tog to use and what the baby should wear.
Useful guidelines for sleeping bags:
- Below 16°C: 2.5 tog sleeping bag plus vest under long-sleeved sleepsuit
- 16°C-19°C: 2-2.5 tog sleeping bag plus long-sleeved sleepsuit
- 20°C-24°C: 1-1.5 tog sleeping bag and vest
- 25°C plus: 0.5 tog sleeping bag and nappy, or just a vest alone
If you like you could use cotton blankets and sheets instead. These are easy to layer so you can add or take away when you think the baby is too hot or too cold.
You can buy sleeping bags for babies up to 9-12 months, which easily covers the period at which little ones are at highest risk of cot death. Some can be extended to grow with the baby, ensuring his feet are at the bottom. But don’t be tempted to add blankets, as they could easily overheat your child. And don’t put your baby or tot to bed with a hot water bottle – you might suffer cold feet at night, but they don’t!
Swaddling, where you wrap a baby up very tightly, isn’t a tradition in our culture, so there’s been very little research on the subject. If you do swaddle your baby, use thin materials, leave his head uncovered and restrict the use of other bedding – getting too hot is a greater danger than being too cold.
How to choose the right mattress
Babies spend up to 70% of their time on their cot mattress so it’s worth putting in a bit of thought when choosing one.
The most important thing to make sure of is that it fits exactly with no gaps around the edges so there’s no risk of the baby getting stuck. If you can put two fingers between the edge of the cot and the mattress then it doesn’t fit properly and it could be a safety hazard.
There are so many choices of mattresses around: sometimes the mattress will come with the cot, other times it won’t and you’ll have to buy something new and they vary hugely in price.
They can be made of foam, springs, or organic and natural fibres and be anti-allergenic and anti-dustmite, it’s simply a matter of how much you want to spend and whether you want a basic mattress (foam cot mattresses start at about £20), or something a bit more advanced. Look for the blue and white label that guarantees fire-safety standards.
The mattress should have a wipe-clean surface and washable cover. Keeping it well-aired and clean may not seem a safety issue, but think of the bugs! Apart from pee, there are dust mites. These are unavoidable, as they thrive in warm, moist conditions and feed off skin particles. Even children can lose half a pint of body moisture in a night and shed a pound of skin particles a year – much of it while sleeping – so there’s no avoiding them. But they’re really only an issue if your child is prone to respiratory problems such as asthma.
Bugs in the bed are, in part, why parents are often advised to buy a new mattress. But untold numbers of babies and children have slept on second-hand mattresses and thrived. As long as it’s clean, don’t fret if you can’t afford new. Covers should be traditionally made up, with sheets and blankets. But don’t use duvets, as they’re dangerous for the same reason as cot soft furnishings. If you’re worried about allergies and dust mites, PurFlo mattresses are washable, hollow and foam-free. They also have an outer layer that protects against dust mites and are recommended by Allergy UK.
Prices start at £107.61 for a cot mattress. If you’re worried about the
environment and want something very natural for your baby, then you could splash out on an organic version for around £90.
Do you need special lighting?
It’s a myth that you need special lighting in a baby’s nursery, normal lighting is fine. Gail says: ‘As long as you have enough light to see what you’re doing when you’re looking after your baby, that’s fine. Obviously don’t have the light shining directly into the baby’s face.’
Nightlights are nice, but they’re not necessary for babies, they don’t get scared of the dark and won’t need them to help them sleep. Also, blackout blinds aren’t a necessity either as babies can sleep through many things, even daylight.
Lots of parents buy baby monitors so they can relax knowing that if their baby cries they will hear them. There are lots of varieties on the market. You can get video versions for about £80, monitors that detect the baby’s breathing for about £80 and casic sound ones for about £20.
A basic monitor that means you can hear your baby cry is a great idea but make sure the batteries are working and it’s somewhere that you can hear the baby.
Costs aside, the best way to choose is to decide how much reassurance you need that your baby is OK and pick the one that will make you feel the most secure.