Sleep and your baby

Posted on 5 March 2018

As soon as a new mother brings her baby home, she is inundated with well-meaning advice on what to do and what not to do to instill good sleeping habits. At the end of the day, as long as your baby is sleeping well – and sleeping safely – the details on whether you rock baby to sleep or which brand of baby carrier you use become less significant.

How much sleep does your baby need?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) guidelines on sleep according to different ages for optimal health and well-being. The guidelines are as follows:

  • Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours
  • Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours
  • Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours

Is your baby at risk while sleeping?

‘A safe sleeping environment for a baby is where we reduce the risk of sudden unexplained infant demise to as little as possible, ideally to zero,’ says Dr Jonathan Buckley, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Constantiaberg. ‘The data from the United States shows that there were as many as 3 500 unexplained infant deaths last year, of which 1600 was related to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, while 25% of these were caused by accidental suffocation.’

‘Unfortunately in some babies, even if safe sleeping practices are followed to the letter, there is an inherent risk of sudden death. This may be genetic, but the truth is we really don’t know why it happens.’

The risk is highest between 1 and 6 months of age, before a baby can turn on his or her back or tummy. There is still a risk present from 6 to 12 months of age and this gradually subsides after the age of one.

Top tips to keep babies safe when they sleep

  • Back it up: The most important thing is that all babies must be put to sleep on their backs. ‘We know that the risk of a baby of choking on his or her back is much lower than the risk of the baby suffocating on his/her tummy,’ says Dr Buckley.
  • Make some room: They should sleep in a room with their parents for the first six months of their lives, or up to a year old, but in their own cots. For convenience, you can then move baby out of your room after one year old and into their own rooms, still in a cot until they can transition into a bed with safety sides.
  • Cot cosy: Babies should never sleep in the same bed as his or her parents. This is particularly risky for premature babies, and if parents smoke, drink, take sleeping medication or if there is a lot of soft bedding in the bed.
  • Keep it simple: Absolutely nothing must be in the cot other than the baby and his or her blanket. No reflux wedges, no cot bumpers, no pillows or soft toys must be in the cot. All of these items have been shown to be a suffocation risk.
  • Pacify. Research has shown that using a dummy can help reduce the risk of SIDS. But this should only be introduced after two weeks so as not to prevent the correct establishment of breastfeeding.
  • Kangaroo care – but not while asleep. Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin care after birth can also reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Published in Babies

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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