Sleep Safety for Kids: From A to Zzzs
With so much information, advice and products floating around the Internet these days on safe sleep for babies and children, it can be difficult for parents and caregivers to figure out which information to follow. “Rest” assured, there are many things you can do to create a safe sleep environment for your child, whether he or she is a baby, a toddler, or an older child. Child Safety Link (CSL) would like to share the answers to the most common questions we receive about sleep safety. All of our recommendations are based on best practices and are in line with Health Canada’s recommendations.
Q: What is the safest type of bed for my baby to sleep in?
- Cribs, cradles and bassinets sold in Canada must meet current safety regulations. This includes items sold at second-hand stores and online second-hand retailers. Cribs made after 1986 meet today’s standards for safety. It is best not to use a crib older than 10 years. Look for the label to show when the crib was made. If it does not have a label, it may not be safe.
- Before you buy a crib, cradle or bassinet, check online to ensure it hasn’t been the subject of a recall or safety alert.
- Make sure your crib has no loose, missing or broken parts.
- Make sure the crib mattress fits tightly within the crib. If you can fit more than one finger between the mattress and each side of the crib, the mattress is too small.
Q: Can I use a blanket in my baby’s crib?
Other than a firm mattress and a fitted sheet, there is no need for anything else in the crib, cradle or bassinet with your baby. This means no crib bumpers, no pillows, no stuffed animals or toys, no sleep positioners and — the one that is hardest for parents — no heavy blankets, comforters or quilts. As soft and wonderful as fluffy blankets may feel to older children and grownups, they simply aren’t worth the risk for babies. To cut the risk of smothering, your baby should be the only thing in the crib.
So what if it’s chilly in the room? If you are concerned about your baby being cold, a fitted blanket sleeper (sleep sack) or warm sleeper can do the trick. If you feel the need to put a blanket in the crib, make sure it is a thin, lightweight cover and keep it well away from your baby’s face.
Q: Why is it recommended that my baby sleep on his back?
Placing a baby to sleep on his/her back helps in two ways. First of all, it makes it less likely that the baby will smother in the bedding. Second, we know that for some babies, the problem is that their brains haven’t figured out that when they start to smother, they should turn their heads or their bodies and breathe. It’s not that they can’t turn their heads or roll over; it’s that they don’t.
Q: Is it safe to sleep with my baby (co-sleep)?
The safest place for a newborn to sleep is in the parents’ room, within arms’ reach of the parents but in his or her own sleep space, such as a crib, cradle or bassinet. This is called room sharing, and is recommended by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada for the first six months of your baby’s life. Many families find “room sharing” comforting and babies often sleep better when they are close to their parents. Room sharing is also appealing to mothers who breastfeed and want their baby to be near them without sharing the same bed surface.
However, co-sleeping or bed sharing (sleeping in the same bed or on the same surface as your baby) is not recommended by Health Canada due to suffocation and fall risks. Products made for children sleeping in the same bed as the parents are also not recommended by Health Canada for the same reasons.
Q: Is it OK if my baby sleeps in his car seat or stroller?
It would be an impossible task to keep babies from falling asleep in their car seats, strollers, swings and bouncers. However, sleeping in a sitting position can cause your baby’s head to fall forward which can make it hard for him or her to breathe. For this reason it is important to move your baby to a crib, cradle or bassinet to sleep as soon as you arrive at your destination.
Also, babies and young children should never be placed on standard beds, water beds, air mattresses, couches, futons or armchairs to sleep. These are unsafe surfaces on which a baby could suffocate.
Q: How can I reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death?
According to Health Canada, the five most important steps to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are the following:
- Provide a smoke-free environment, before and after your baby is born.
- Always place your baby on his/her back to sleep, at naptime and night time.
- Breastfeeding can protect your baby.
- Provide your baby with a safe sleep environment, alone on a firm surface with no pillows, comforters, quilts or bumper pads.
- Place your baby to sleep in a crib, cradle or bassinet next to your bed.
Learning about SIDS and safe sleep for babies is important for all caregivers, not just for parents. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters, childcare providers, and anyone else who might care for your baby should be aware of and follow these basics. Simple actions can make a big difference.
Q: My baby is climbing out of the crib. How do I keep him/her safe?
As soon as your baby tries to climb out of the crib, it becomes a major hazard for falls. This means it is time to move him or her out of the crib and into a toddler bed or mattress on the floor. There is no set age for this—some kids can be as young as 18 months; others as old as four years.
Q: My toddler has moved to a bed. How do I keep him/her safe?
There are several things you can do to make your child’s new bed safer for him/her:
- Choose a toddler’s bed that is low to the floor, or even place a mattress directly on the floor.
- Make sure there are no large gaps between the mattress and the bed frame.
- Portable bed rails that meet the latest ASTM International standard, can sometimes be used if your child is over two years old and it can be set up according to manufacturer instructions (e.g. on a bed with both a box spring and mattress).
Now that your child can move freely around the room, you also need to “childproof” the room. CSL recommends getting down to your child’s height and looking around to see everything they could get into. The most important safeguards include the following:
- Keep all furniture away from windows and tie up blind cords.
- Use window guards or window locks in your toddler’s bedroom. A window screen will not be enough to keep your child from falling out.
- Attach heavy furniture such as dressers and bookshelves to the wall using safety straps or screws.
- Store products like lotions and creams up high and out of reach. Same for any toys or objects with batteries or sharp objects like scissors.
- Check your toddler’s room often for any small parts from toys or other items that could be choking or strangulation risks.
Q: How safe are bunk beds?
In Canada, more than 300 children are injured due to bunk beds each year. Although there are no safety standards for bunk beds in Canada, Health Canada recommends purchasing bunk beds that meet the current ASTM (US) standards – Look for the ASTM F1427 label on the bunk bed.
Health Canada also suggests the following safe bunk bed practices:
- Children must be at least 6 years old before they can use the top bunk
- Only 1 child should be on the top bunk at a time.
- Use the bunk bed as intended – Children should always use the ladder when getting on or off the top bunk.
- Only play under a top bunk bed if the lower space is designed by the manufacturer as a play area.
- Never tie anything to the bed. Cords, sashes or ropes can strangle a child.
- For more about sleep safety for children of all ages, visit Child Safety Link’s Sleep Safety page here
- For questions on product safety or recalls, visit Health Canada – Consumer Product Safety here: https://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/index-eng.php?cat=4
- For more information on SIDS prevention, please visit Health Canada’s website here: https://bit.ly/30huimK