SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents: risk factors
Deaths from SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents have decreased a lot in Australia. This is because we understand more about safe sleeping practices for our babies, and we’ve been following these practices. These safe sleeping practices can reduce the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.
Safe sleeping tips to reduce the risk of SUDI
1. Put babies to sleep on their backs
This is the safest position for healthy babies. Babies are more likely to die of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents if they sleep on their sides or tummies.
Once your baby can roll over (at around 4-6 months), keep putting your baby to sleep on their back, but let your baby find their own sleeping position.
2. Make sure babies’ heads or faces can’t get covered while they’re sleeping
Put your baby low down in the cot, so their feet are near the bottom end. Tuck in the bed sheets securely so they can’t cover baby’s head. You could use a safe infant sleeping bag instead of blankets.
3. Avoid smoking
There’s strong evidence that exposure to second-hand smoke harms babies, and that smoking during pregnancy and after birth increases the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. The link between SUDI and smoking is strong even when parents smoke away from their babies.
If you want to quit smoking and you’re finding it hard, call Quitline on 137 848. You could also speak to your GP or child and family health nurse.
4. Use a cot that meets current Australian safety standards
Only well-maintained cots built to strict safety standards are good enough for your baby. Cots that meet the standard will have a clear label – AS/NZS 2172 for cots and AS/NZS 2195 for portable cots. And check that cots meet current standards by looking at Product Safety Australia’s guide to keeping baby safe.
Cots that don’t meet the standards have many risks, including lead paint, gaps that children could get caught in, and sides that are too low and that children could climb over.
5. Share a room
Have your baby in a cot in your room for the first year of life, or at least for the first six months, for daytime and night-time sleeps.
6. Breastfeed your baby
Breastfeeding reduces by more than half the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. Regardless of whether your baby is breastfed or bottle-fed, it’s still very important to follow safe sleeping practices.
7. Don’t use cot bumpers, soft toys, pillows, doonas, mattress padding, sheepskin or lamb’s wool where your baby sleeps
Babies can suffocate or overheat by rolling into or being covered by these soft objects.
8. Use a firm and well-fitting mattress
Make sure there are no gaps between the mattress and the edge of the cot, where your baby’s head could get jammed. If you’re using a portable cot, use only the firm, thin, well-fitting mattress that comes with it. Don’t add a second mattress.
9. Don’t sleep baby on couches or makeshift bedding
Sleeping on a couch, with or without someone else, is very dangerous for babies.
Also take care with makeshift bedding. Situations where your baby might be in danger include getting wedged between a mattress and a wall, getting stuck between pillows or cushions, or slipping under loose blankets. It’s also not recommended to leave a baby sleeping in a pram unsupervised.
10. Dress your baby in clothing that’s warm, but not hot
Overheating is a risk factor for SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. A handy tip is to think about what you’d wear to bed and use that as a guide. If you use an infant sleeping bag that’s appropriate for your baby’s sleep environment, you don’t need sheets or blankets over the top. Keep your baby’s head and face uncovered – this allows your baby to cool and not overheat. Don’t worry if your baby’s hands and feet feel cool – that’s normal.
11. Make sure your baby’s carers know how to protect against SUDI
It’s best not to assume that other people know about safe sleeping practices, even professional child carers. Look at the sleeping arrangements at your baby’s child care setting, and make sure that your baby will be positioned safely for sleep. It’s also OK to ask carers about sleep arrangements.
Download or print our illustrated guide to reducing the risk of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.
Flat spots on baby’s head
When babies are young, their heads are still very soft. Sleeping on their backs can sometimes make the backs of their skulls a little bit flat over time. This is called positional plagiocephaly. It normally gets better without any medical help by the time babies are 12 months old.
If it’s worrying you, you can gently alternate the tilt of your baby’s head each time you put your baby into bed to sleep. But always put your baby on their back to sleep. Then keep your baby off the back of their head as much as possible when awake. Tummy time can help you do this.