Safe Sleep for Newborns: Tips for Childcare Providers

Newborns and young infants spend much of the day sleeping, making safe sleep tactics and essential skill set for childcare providers. Neglecting the basic tenets of safe sleep can place infants under one year of age at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which occurs with no warning signs while a baby sleeps. Since the American public, including parents and childcare providers, began to widely adopt the safe sleeping rules set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the SIDS rate in the United States has plummeted by more than fifty percent. Still, one in five deaths attributed to SIDS occurs when a child is place in the care of someone other than a parent, like daycare or with an in-home childcare provider.

Creating the Right Sleep Environment for Newborns

Newborns and infants should never be placed in cribs or bassinets with soft toys, blankets or crib bumpers. Childcare providers should ensure all mattresses used in cribs are safety-approved and covered with a snug, fitted sheet. Research has linked an increased risk of SIDS to overheating, so it’s also essential for childcare providers to maintain a cool, comfortable temperature in the rooms where infants will be sleeping. Babies should never be left to sleep on a couch, chair, waterbed or other soft surfaces. The addition of a small fan can provide white noise which helps to soothe babies to sleep, and will also aid in the recirculation of air, which is a key aspect of preventing SIDS.

Childcare laws vary from one state to the next, and some may have guidelines regarding what is and is not acceptable in a sleeping environment for young infants. Childcare providers should make a concerted effort to know and understand the laws in their state, in addition to the guidelines prescribed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Safe Sleep Positioning for Babies

Medical professionals and experts across the board agree that the safest sleep position for infants under the age of one is on their backs. Children placed on their sides can roll onto their stomachs, but may not have developed the muscle control necessary to roll onto their backs. The risk of SIDS increases dramatically when infants who are accustomed to sleeping safely on their backs are left to sleep on their sides or stomach by a childcare provider who is not familiar with their routine. Tummy time is an important aspect of babies’ waking development, but should never be a part of their sleeping habits.

This doesn’t mean childcare providers should reposition older babies who have learned to roll onto their stomachs or sides, though. Once an infant has the necessary muscle control to find their own comfortable sleeping position, they may not stay on their backs. For newborns and very young infants who lack these motor skills, however, lying on their backs is still the safest sleep position.

Understanding SIDS Risk Factors

Sleeping in a crib with plush toys, pillows and thick blankets is a known SIDS risk, as is improper sleep positioning. Still, there are other factors which can contribute to an increased SIDS risk for young babies. This includes exposure to second-hand smoke, so childcare providers should never smoke anywhere near the children in their care. Caregivers should also actively work to facilitate the efforts of breastfeeding moms, as breastfeeding can lower SIDS risk by as much as fifty percent.

Pacifier use is another way of reducing the risk of SIDS for very young infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of pacifiers for babies, especially during sleep, to help reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome risk factors. Childcare providers should not place sleep hats on newborns, as they can become improperly positioned and slide over an infant’s face.

Adhering to the safe sleep recommendations of experts and the regulations in your state is essential for childcare providers. Mitigating the increased risk of SIDS presented when an infant is being cared for by a caregiver other than a parent should be a primary focus of all childcare professionals, and can help to prevent the tragedy of Sudden Infant Death.

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