How to Protect Your Child From Suffocation While Sleeping

baby sleeping in crib

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When it comes to infants, toddlers, and even preschoolers, no subject gets more attention than sleeping. Whether it's getting kids to sleep through the night, take naps during the day, or transition to a big kid bed, parents are always interested in discussing their child's sleep habits. But no topic is as important as implementing safe sleep practices.

In fact, knowing the ins and outs of safe sleep helps parents protect their kids from dangers like sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), suffocation, and even strangulation. Here is an overview of the things you can do to practice safe sleep from birth through preschool.

Safe Sleep From Newborn to 1 Year

Most new parents already know that they should be putting infants to sleep on their backs and providing ample tummy time during the day. But they may not know that avoiding bedding in their infant's crib is also essential in the prevention of suffocation and SIDS. In fact, there should be no blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or bumper pads in your baby's bassinet or crib. All of these items pose suffocation hazards.

Parents also should ensure that their baby is put to sleep on a firm, flat surface that does not indent or crease. Soft mattresses and other surfaces that sag or indent due to weight also pose suffocation hazards—especially after your baby can roll around. Additionally, never put your baby to sleep on couches or armchairs. These pieces of furniture are extremely dangerous places for a baby to sleep.

Another suffocation hazard is nursing in bed when there is a risk you will fall asleep. If you think you might fall asleep while breastfeeding, there should be no blankets, sheets, or pillows near the baby that could cover your baby's head or neck or cause overheating.

And, although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents and babies share a room for the first year, they advise that babies should be in their own sleeping space—either in a crib, a bassinet, or a portable crib nearby—and not sharing the adult bed.

Safe Sleep During the Toddler Years

Ideally, your baby will continue to sleep in a crib until closer to the preschool years. The general recommendation is that your child should be about 35 inches tall—or when the side of the crib is less than three-quarters of your child's height—before you begin transitioning to a "big kid" bed.

After 1 year of age, your toddler can have a small blanket in the crib. But you still should avoid bumper pads, large stuffed animals, and fluffy pillows as the risk of becoming entrapped and suffocating is still a concern in a crib. Likewise, as toddlers become more mobile, they may use these items to try to climb out of the crib on their own.

Once your toddler graduates to a toddler bed or a kid-size bed equipped with bed rails, it's important to remember not to place their beds close to a wall. Toddlers who sleep in a bed that is close to a wall may sometimes roll off the bed and become pinned in the tight space between the bed and wall, which increases the risk of suffocation. Heavy bed coverings also can contribute to an unsafe situation by blocking a child's breathing passage, resulting in suffocation.

What's more, some youngsters are such sound sleepers that they may not even awaken when they roll into the space between the bed and the wall, especially if they roll into a softly-padded area that well-meaning parents have attempted to close up by stuffing pillows or bedding in the space between the bed and the wall. In fact, if a young child rolls into that area, the attempted protection may actually increase the potential for suffocation.

You should also ensure the bed is placed far enough away from window blind cords or electronics cords like baby monitors, which can be strangulation hazards, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Safe Sleep During the Preschool Years and Beyond

To avoid the risks of child suffocation dangers during the preschool years, parents should be vigilant in protecting a child's bed space even as they get older. Kids who have graduated to a big kid bed also should have their bed positioned in a center of the room, if possible, or at least a few feet away from a wall. Even at this older age, there is still a risk of suffocation if they become trapped between the wall and the bed.

Meanwhile, beds equipped with side guards can help to minimize the risk of rolling off the bed, but they aren't an absolute safeguard. And, if your child's bed does not come equipped with bed rails, the general recommendation is not to purchase separate, portable side rails and attach them to the bed. If you do purchase rails, they should be manufactured after 2013 and used only for children ages 2 and older.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, portable side rails can allow children to become entrapped and suffocate, especially those manufactured before 2012, when new standards were enacted in response to the risk.

If your child tends to roll off the bed, or this is a concern of yours, you can place the bed closer to the ground (even place the mattress directly on the ground) and move any hard furniture away from the bed.

Parents should also be careful not to create a barrier that keeps a child from getting out of bed safely. For example, sheets and bedding that are tucked in tightly or are extra heavy create additional child suffocation risks. While your goal may be to keep your child in bed all night, you want to make sure that in the event of an emergency, like a fire or severe weather, or when in distress, like needing to vomit, that there is no safety barrier that could unintentionally cause harm to your child.

A Word From Verywell

While crib bumpers, beautiful quilts, and cute stuffed animals are all adorable, they can pose serious risks to a sleeping baby. Likewise, cords from baby monitors and window blinds can also pose risks. Even bed rails, which are often advertised as injury prevention aids, can be dangerous additions to a sleeping child's bed. To prevent the risk of SIDS, suffocation, and even strangulation, it's important to carefully consider everything you put in and around your child's crib or bed ensuring that everything is developmentally appropriate. Doing so ensures you have created a safe sleeping space for your little one.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Safe sleep recommendations to protect against SIDS, sleep-related infant deaths.

  2. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Safe sleep for your baby.

  3. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Safe sleep: bedding, pillows, safety and more.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Helping babies sleep safely. Updated June 13, 2019.

  5. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Portable bed rails.