We all, of course, want to teach our babies to have good sleep habits and maybe get a little bit of shut-eye ourselves, but there is a lot to learn about how to make sleep time safe—especially for infants and toddlers under 18 months old. A 2016 study reported that approximately 3,500 infants die each year in the United States from sleep-related infant deaths. We aren’t here to scare you, but we are here to help you learn what to do to have the best possible sleep environment for your child.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adhering to proper sleep guidelines can minimize the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Unfortunately, another study warns that nearly two-thirds of parents don’t properly follow safe infant sleep practices.
Infant sleep do’s and don’ts
Before you bring your baby home, you should brush up on evidence-based recommendations for the safest sleep environment for your baby.
- Do feel free to let your baby sleep in the same room as you, but the AAP strongly discourages against bed-sharing for infants under a year old.
- Don’t ever sleep on a couch or fall asleep in a chair with a baby. Babies can be easily smothered by the soft cushions.
- Do place infants to sleep on their back for as long as possible; it’s recommended you do so for at least one year.
- Don’t let babies sleep with soft objects. Bare is best and it’s recommended that you refrain from giving babies blankets, pillows, bumpers, or bedding until they are 18 months old.
- Do have babies sleep on firm sleep surfaces. Bassinets, cribs, or play yards are recommended.
- Don’t let babies sleep in sitting devices, including swings and car seats, and avoid inclined sleepers.
- Do feel free to swaddle for sleep, but know the risks and stop as soon as babies begin to roll over (about 2 months old).
- Do know that there is not enough research on in-bed sleepers to determine their safety and no current safety standards in place for manufacturing them nor for their use. A 2019 investigation by Consumer Reports found them to be problematic.
“We recognize that these guidelines are sometimes difficult to follow, but they are the best strategy to protect your baby for a sudden and unexpected death. We urge parents and other caregivers to follow these guidelines at nap time and night time,” says Rachel Y. Moon, pediatrician and safe infant sleep researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Read on for recommendations for sleep products that meet high standards for safety and will help make for a night’s sleep that’s both restful and safe.
1. A soothing swaddle
If your little one fights the swaddle blanket, the Happiest Baby swaddle may be what you need. Made by the same people who have created the Snoo smart sleeper, our testers ranked this one the best swaddle when tested against 12 other top-performers. This one has a double zipper that can open from top or bottom—making for easier nighttime changes, an inner arm wrap with extra-quiet Velcro, and breathable mesh at the shoulders and waist to keep them from overheating. The AAP, however, stresses that swaddling should only be done when a baby sleeps on the back and should stop as soon as babies can roll over, which is typically at two months of age.
2. A sleep sack to keep them warm
Once your little one has graduated from a swaddle, you need a sleep sack to keep them cozy without the use of a blanket, which is deemed as unsafe for babies under 18 months. A sleep sack is sort of like a safe sleeping bag for your baby. We like this simple design with a bottom-up zipper for easy diaper changes, and cotton that ensures baby won’t overheat.
3. A crib that meets the highest safety standards
The Babyletto checks all of the boxes for a super-safe crib. It’s Greenguard Gold-certified to be chemical and toxin-free, meets all of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) testing standards, and exceeds U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) safety standards. Plus it looks great and since it’s convertible it’ll last through all the stages, right through until they are ready to have a big-kid bed.
4. The safest mattress for rogue tummy-sleepers
Goldilocks would have gone nuts for this “just right” mattress that not only allows for temperature regulation, it’s one of the safest mattresses on the market. The Newton Baby crib mattress is unique in that it’s 90% air. Its innovative Breathe-Thru design allows air to flow freely for optimal breathability, which gives peace of mind should your baby roll over on their tummy in the middle of the night. It’s hypoallergenic, foam- and latex-free, and doesn’t contain any springs or glue, making it completely recyclable. You can even throw it in the washing machine, should a blowout occur!
5. A bassinet with mesh siding
The full mesh sides and the sturdy construction make this one of the best bassinets on the market. Guava Family Lotus Bassinet gained enthusiastic accolades and a near-flawless review by our product testers. This high-quality bassinet is sturdy, safe, fits easily by your bed, and has breathable mesh siding. Not only is the Lotus great at being a bassinet, but it can transform into a pack and play as well, making for a smart two-for-one product that saves money and space. Since babies struggle with internal heat regulation, this is highly recommended for keeping your little one cool and safe.
6. A pacifier
Studies have proven that giving your baby a pacifier greatly reduces the risk of SIDS. Though the exact reason why is unclear, experts theorize that babies with pacifiers don’t sleep as deeply and can therefore wake up more easily, or that sucking a pacifier might open up air space around a baby’s mouth and nose. Don’t force it if they reject it, but this natural, no-chemical pacifier is worth a try. The extra-large shield closely simulates the feel of breast feeding; if your baby likes a little bit of the boob before drifting off, this may help make for a soothing lull into dreamland. It’s recommended that, if you breastfeed, you wait until a baby is one month old before giving them a pacifier.
7. A good baby monitor with sleep analytics
When getting a baby monitor, know that “smart” baby monitors—for all their lofty claims—quite simply haven’t been proven to protect against SIDS. Cardiorespiratory monitors, which alert you to changes in your baby’s breathing at night are not regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so, at least for now, we recommend you opt for a tried and true video monitor.
The Cubo Ai Plus baby monitor ranked the highest in our expert tests of the best video baby monitors for offering “practically every feature a tired new parent could want.” It boasts temperature and humidity alerts, two-way audio, smart home compatibility with Amazon and Google devices, cry-detection alerts, a built-in nightlight and lullabies, and sleep analytics. If anything will help you monitor a safe sleep environment for your little one, this will.
8. A smart bassinet that can sleep train your baby
Created by famed pediatrician Harvey Karp (you might have read his bestselling book Happiest Baby on the Block), the Snoo is a smart, responsive bassinet that claims to help babies sleep better and longer—and even professes to “sleep train without [the] tears” that usually come with that process.
The bassinet has responsive technology that senses when your baby is awake and determines whether to take over and lull them back into dreamland with lullabies and a soft rocking motion, or, if it’s necessary, to send you push notifications to check in or do a change or a feeding. The Snoo has been deemed so safe and effective it received the FDA Breakthrough Device designation with the intent to officially declare it as proven to reduce SIDS. For parents who are on the fence about spending nearly $1,400 on the Snoo (or renting it for $118 a month) it may soon be covered by insurance, making it an equitably available device for all.
9. A snuggly lovey to cuddle to sleep
There’s nothing like a snuggly little lamb to soothe your tiny tot at bedtime. While there aren’t specified rules regarding a lovey at bedtime, it’s recommended that you wait until they are 12 months old and speak with your pediatrician before placing one in your baby’s bed. When the time does come for your baby to sleep with a lovey, this is our personal favorite. We like this one because there are so many options for tactile stimulation: The silky inside, fuzzy outside, tuggable ears, and chewable tag give so many different ways for babies to soothe themselves before they drift off to sleep.
10. Breathable PJs in adorable prints
Of course you need comfy, cozy pajamas that are made for cuddling and for catching some sweet Zs! These are 100% organic, GOTS-certified and are made from breathable cotton, which is so important to prevent overheating in babies. They are also just right for infants with sensitive skin and come in adorable prints. We also like that they are zip-front, which are far easier than fumbling for snaps during nighttime changes. These go from newborn sizes up to 9 months and come in whimsical, animal-inspired, gender-neutral designs.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.