As a certified sleep consultant, I’m asked all the time about the various sleep products that are on the market. It turns out, many of the items that are cleverly marketed as cure-alls for tired parents’ sleep deprivation aren’t actually safe for sleep. Swings, co-sleepers, sidecar-style bassinets, bouncers, anything with the word “sleeper” in its name… None of these “sleep spaces” are approved for safe sleep. Never fear, though! We’ve sorted through the most asked-about products to give you a quick tip sheet for the safe sleep products we love and those we don’t.
But before we jump in, let’s review the safe sleep recommendations from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP). Baby should always be alone in their sleep space: no sleep positioners (like a Dock-a-Tot), cocoons, stuffed animals, blankets, or stuffed animals should be in their sleep space. Baby should always be placed to sleep on their back and should only sleep in a crib or bassinet that is approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission
With that in mind, here are five product categories that are used for sleep, but shouldn’t.
1. Crib bumpers: We continue to see these used even though the AAP has warned against using them. Many parents continue to use them because they’re worried that baby will bump their heads on the crib slats, that their limbs will get stuck in between them, or that the crib just doesn’t feel cozy. Bumpers aren’t the solution to those understandable concerns. They pose a risk of suffocation and entrapment--even the “breathable” mesh variety.
Pro tip: If your baby is looking for extra coziness, put them in the corner of the crib/bassinet, with their head touching the corner, or all the way at the bottom so that their feet touch the bottom.
2. Car seats: We all breathe a sigh of relief when our babies (finally) fall asleep in the car or on the airplane. Car seats were designed to be used as safety restraint while driving or flying -- not for sleep. Dr. Alisa Baer aka The Car Seat Lady, a nationally-recognized car seat expert, says that the most common mistake well-intentioned parents make is unbuckling the chest clip or crotch buckle (or both) when they arrive somewhere. When the straps are loose or undone, she says that babies can easily end up in a chin-to-chest position, and even older children can slip down and get strangled on the chest clip. So what to do when baby falls asleep in the car on your way home from your toddler's drop-off?
First, make sure that both the chest and crotch buckles are fully buckled, that the straps are snug and that the car seat is properly placed on a stroller base or in a car, or on the floor. Upon arriving at your destination, use your best ninja skills to transfer baby to their safe sleep space. If this isn't possible, make sure that your kiddo is still completely buckled and snugly strapped in and the seat is in one of those safe places. (For more information, see her Always Buckle Baby resource page.)
Pro tip: If your little one is still asleep when you arrive at daycare or the nanny share, you should take him out of the carseat YOURSELF and transfer him to a safe sleep space or hand him to the caretaker. Don't assume the caretaker will do it.
3. Loveys or stuffed animals: I know, you got a million of these as baby gifts! As adorable as they are, they pose a whole host of risks to infants, including suffocation and strangulation. Err on the side of safety and wait until your babe is 12 months or older to put one in the crib.
Pro tip: Try the Bitta Kidda sleep sack, which has a small pieces of fabric attached to the sleep sack that baby can use to self-soothe safely. Genius!
4. Wedges: These are especially popular for babies who are suffering from reflux. The latest AAP guidelines state that the risk of death or injury from sleeping on an incline is higher than the risks that GER or GERD pose to your baby. Sleep on an incline is not considered safe, regardless of how you do it. (e.g. a wedge, placing something under the legs of the bassinet, putting blankets under the mattress or fitted sheet). It’s not worth the risk.
Pro tip: Hold baby upright for 15 minutes after feeding to help digestion instead.
5. Weighted sleep sacks: These have become super popular in the past few years. There are no safety standards for these products and the fact that they put extra weight on the baby’s chest raises concerns about breathing interference. A standard sleep sack or swaddle is all you need.
Pro tip: For babies who are 3 months or older and who still have some of their Moro reflex, the Love to Dream Swaddle UP 50/50 sleep sack is a great way to start transitioning out of the swaddle.
Parents need to double down on all of these no-nos in any collective care environment, whether it’s daycare, a nanny share, etc. Many sleep-related deaths happen while the child is being cared for by someone other than the parent. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions when you’re interviewing potential caregivers. Never be afraid to ask about their safe sleep know-how and to see where your baby will be sleeping while in their care.
Do a safe sleep audit of your little one’s sleep environment and make any changes necessary. You’ll sleep better knowing baby is in the safest place they can be. Still unsure whether a certain product is safe for sleep? Check out the Safe Infant Sleep Support Group on Facebook, where they provide answers and supporting research about the product in question.
Leigh McMahon is a certified sleep consultant with Bonne Nuit Baby. Based in Denver, she helps babies and children across the U.S. and Europe learn how to be champion sleepers so their parents can function/stay sane/cut down on the double espressos. Follow her @bonnenuitdenver and get weekly sleep tips on @_bonnenuitbaby.