Tips for Enjoying Cuddling With Your Baby

It’s official – AAP says co-sleeping is a no-no.

It’s lovely to cuddle in bed with a baby. And a big, soft bed is the perfect spot for lazy face gazing, singing nursery rhymes, toe-ticklings and tummy time. But as tempting as a little nap together on the couch may seem, the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) has issued its official recommendation that adults and babies should not sleep together – whether that’s on a bed, couch or armchair.

Put simply, the APA recommends that for safe napping and sleeping this holiday season, a baby less than one year old should be given a pacifier and laid down to sleep on his or her back in a crib or play yard – without stuffed toys, pillows, bumpers, or loose bedding.

The APA warning against bed-sharing is one of 19 updated recommendations intended to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, and other sleep-related causes of infant death. The National Institutes of Health has issued a statement of support for the recommendations, urging everyone from parents and grandparents to daycare and healthcare providers to educate themselves and others about the updated recommendations for safe infant sleep.

Below is an encapsulation of some of the updated recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS, suffocation, entrapment, and strangulation:

  • Babies should be laid to sleep on their back every time they sleep, even for naps.
  • Babies should sleep on a firm sleep surface with no soft objects, loose bedding or floppy clothing. If the baby falls asleep somewhere else, he or she should be gently moved as soon as it is practical.
  • Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. Pacifiers should not be hung around a baby’s neck, nor should pacifiers that attach to clothing be used when a baby sleeps.
  • Avoid overheating. Don’t over-bundle your bundle of joy, swaddle or cover the baby’s face or head at sleep time.
  • Infants should sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants. Ideally, this is done for the first year of life, but at least for the first 6 months. This alone has been shown to significantly decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.

One problem area researchers specifically highlight is memory foam mattresses. Because they are soft and malleable, memory foam mattresses can create a pocket or indentation and thus increase the chance of suffocation if the baby were to roll over onto his or her stomach.

The revised APA recommendations also emphasize that couches and armchairs can pose an “extraordinarily high risk” of infant death from suffocation, and suggest that parents and caregivers pay special attention to their own level of sleepiness when feeding or comforting the baby. This will help avoid accidentally falling asleep with the baby on a sofa, recliner or bed.

This seems to be especially true when caregivers must get up in the night, perhaps repeatedly, to feed or quiet the baby. In a recent video study, researchers from Penn State University found that in 90% of the sleep incidents documented in their study videos – 90%! – infants were found to have a “loose item” such as a pillow, sleep positioner or stuffed animal within their sleeping area.

While most of the infants started out in a safe sleep location, such as a crib, bassinet or playpen, 12- 28% of infants were moved to a different place at least once during the night. And for the most part, that second location – adult bed, couch, armchair, car seat or swing – was an unsafe sleeping place for a baby, with toys, loose bedding or soft cushions creating a potential for entrapment, suffocation or strangulation. Sleep-deprived caregivers seem to have had the best intentions at the outset but were inconsistent in their vigilance as the evening wore on.

“It is important to note that a large percentage of infants who die from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) are found with their head covered by bedding,” the task force authors wrote. “Therefore, no pillows, sheets, blankets or any other items that could obstruct infant breathing or cause overheating should be in the bed.”

It seems almost unbelievable, but sleep-related infant death claims the lives of approximately 3500 infants a year in the United States alone. To any parent that’s a horrifying number – and that’s down an estimated 60% in the two decades since the National Institutes of Health, AAP and others launched a campaign to educate parents, grandparents and childcare providers about reducing the risk of SIDS by placing infants on their backs to sleep. That one simple thing has saved the lives of thousands of babies.

Clearly, changing the behavior of caregivers when it comes to baby’s sleep safety, even in simple ways, has had profoundly positive effects on reducing the incidence of SIDS and sleep-related infant death. The APA’s new infant sleep safety guidance seeks to reduce that number to zero.

You can help keep your little sweetie safe and take care of your family by implementing these recommendations in your own parenting, and especially by being mindful of your own wakefulness when attending to baby’s needs at night. Then you can help others by sharing what you’ve learned about safe infant sleep with your co-workers, friends, family – anyone you know who has or cares for a baby.

Read all 19 of the APA’s recommendations along with the evidence that supports each one at the AAP News and Journals Gateway: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/20/peds.2016-2938

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