There’s no doubt that once your little one has arrived there’s one subject that will dominate your conversation and that’s sleep.  How much you’re getting, how much you’re partner’s getting and how much your little treasure is getting too!  Your concerns won’t only be about how much your baby sleeps, but how to help them settle at bedtime, after feeds and what is the safest way for them to sleep?  Moses basket, cot, co-sleeping, on their front or on their backs…there’s a lot to think about!  If you’re struggling to decide what’s best for your family, the experts at NCT have looked at safety and sleep and have shared their thoughts with us…

Where babies sleep

There are a variety of locations for babies to sleep including cots, Moses baskets, bedside and travel cots, slings, in arms and their parents’ bed.  Young babies often fall asleep in a car seat or buggy, but these have downsides for longer sleeps as babies are constricted and in danger of overheating if dressed for the outdoors but then moved indoors.

Most young babies don’t just sleep in one place; it varies with the time of day, and what their parents or carers are doing.

Where babies sleep is also a cultural issue; for some families it is unthinkable that the baby would not stay with the parents all the time and sleep with them in the same bed, as that is the norm within their community.

For others, the norm is for babies to be in a cot, and they feel that they could not relax and sleep well with the baby in their bed.

For babies up to six months, it’s recommended that parents:

  • Keep the baby in the same room as an adult minding them during the day as well as at night
  • Put babies to sleep on their backs
  • Take steps to ensure that babies cannot wriggle down under covers and have their head covered by the bedding
  • Do not smoke anywhere near the baby
  • Ensure that cots conform to safety standards so that babies cannot become trapped between the bars and be free from bumpers and pillows
  • Parents and carers should also try to guard against falling asleep on a sofa with the baby as the risk of accident is greater

Co-sleeping

We know that many parents sleep in the same bed as their baby at some point in the first six months or so. NCT research[i] found that:

  • Approximately a quarter of babies (26%) were sleeping in a cot in their parents’ room
  • Around one in six (17%) started the night in a cot and then came into their parents’ bed during the night
  • 10% were regularly sleeping in their parents’ bed throughout the night and 24% of babies were regularly sleeping in the parents’ bed at some point during the night

Therefore it’s important to make parents aware of guidance for safe bed-sharing.

The Department of Health specifically advises that bed-sharing should be avoided if one or both parents:

  • Is a smoker
  • Has consumed alcohol
  • Has taken any drugs, prescription or otherwise, that affect perception, cause drowsiness or affect depth of sleep
  • Is excessively tired to the extent that this might affect being able to respond to the baby

The risks associated with co-sleeping are also increased if your baby:

  • Was born premature (37 weeks or less)
  • Had a low birth weight (less than 2.5kg or 5.5lb)
  • Has a fever or any signs of illness

In order to reduce the chance of accidents if you do decide to co-sleep with your baby, it is important to:

  • Make sure your baby can’t fall out of bed
  • Keep your baby cool by using sheets and blankets rather than a duvet
  • Always put your baby to sleep on their back rather than their front or side
  • Don’t use a pillow – babies don’t need a pillow until they are one year old
  • Never risk falling asleep with your baby on the sofa or in an armchair

Sleep strategies

Newborn babyNCT research revealed that parents used a number of strategies to settle their baby with making the room dark and a regular routine of activities being the most common. Most parents also considered bathing and feeding their baby was part of their routine for settling their baby at bedtime. Few parents said that they regularly left their baby to cry themselves to sleep, just 4%. Few also resorted to taking them for a car ride to help them sleep at night.

You could try one or more of the following to encourage your baby to sleep:

  • Place them sleepy, but awake, in their cot at bedtime with a favourite toy. This has been shown in research studies to increase the proportion of babies who go to sleep without a parent being present and the length of time babies sleep at night
  • Introduce a regular bedtime routine, such as a bath, or reading a book together. This has also been found to assist settling and sleep
  • Turn down the light and minimise talking, playing and disturbance when your baby wakes during the night
  • With young babies under a year, some people find that additional feeds during the evening, or semi-waking their baby for a feed between 10pm and midnight, can help them sleep for longer stretches at night. This is sometimes called ‘dream feeding’. This approach can be used for both breastfed and formula-fed babies. However the research evidence on the effectiveness of this approach is mixed
  • Try to encourage continuity in your baby’s sleep by trying to get them to rest in the same place the majority of the time

More information for parents about safe sleeping is available here: www.nct.org.uk/parenting/your-babys-sleep

 


[i] Sleep results from ‘First 1,000 Days’ research project, conducted by NCT and supported by Pampers. Experiences of first-time parents at 6-9 months: findings from the first questionnaire & focus group.

During 2013-2014, NCT’s Research and Evaluation Department conducted a mixed-methods longitudinal research study of first-time mothers’ and fathers’ experiences and attitudes during the first two years following the birth of their baby. To understand more about life as a new first-time parent, NCT invited men and women to complete online questionnaires at two time-points: one during their baby’s first year (6-9 months), the other one year later (18-21 months), following eight focus groups to inform the survey design. In total, 869 first-time mothers and 296 first-time fathers responded in full to the first questionnaire when their babies were on average eight months old.