The safest way for your baby to sleep

Protecting the safety and health of your baby, ensuring that he or she feels well and has no shortage of anything is a fundamental, even elementary, need of parents. But despite all the precautions, there are healthy babies every year who suddenly and unexpectedly die in their sleep. Sudden infant death is called this phenomenon and is unfortunately still the cause of most deaths in Germany in the first year of life.

But there is also good news: Sudden infant death is becoming less frequent. In the last twelve years, deaths have fallen by two thirds. Instead of 15 in 1990, only five out of 10,000 infants died in 2002. Researchers are increasingly recognising and warning against more and more risk factors. Most of the suddenly deceased babies slept in prone position, often under blankets that were too warm and raised above their heads. The indoor climate was also often too hot or too humid. Mortality was also higher in smoky indoor air.

Why all this increases the risk of sudden infant death cannot yet be explained conclusively. On the one hand, doctors say that the prone position causes blood vessels to buckle, disrupting the blood supply to the brain. Oxygen deficiency eventually leads to respiratory arrest. On the other hand, doctors have also found that emergency breathing did not work for the infants affected. There are certain nerve cells in the brain which, in cases of acute oxygen deficiency, order the lungs to take a few quick and deep breaths. If infants do not have this ability, they may die because they may have buried their nose in the fur of their pet.

But even though medicine and science are still puzzling about the obvious causes, it is agreed that the following recommendations help to make the baby's sleep safer:

1. the correct sleeping position is the supine position

Babies cannot choose their posture themselves in the first five to six months. During this time, they are not yet able to raise and hold their heads independently. For this reason, put your baby on his back to sleep from the first day of life. As long as the baby is awake, it can and should also lie on the stomach to strengthen the neck and back muscles. But it should sleep in the supine position. And like the prone position during sleep, the lateral position should be completely avoided.

2. sleeping bag instead of blanket

Take a sleeping bag without a hood and do not use a blanket. Baby sleeping bags give your baby plenty of freedom to romp around, but your child remains comfortably warmly wrapped. So it doesn't have to freeze or sweat. Also, it can't pull the sleeping bag over your head, mouth and nose and possibly suffocate.

3. nothing unnecessary in bed

Do not put your baby in bed for the first 12 months. So there are no cuddly tissues, no sheepskins or artificial skins and no larger cuddly toys or little nests, just as there are no hot-water bottles or heating pads. All these things could cause heat build-up or hinder breathing. A pillow also has no place in the cot, because the exhaled carbon dioxide could collect there and is then breathed in again.

4. avoid overheating

Parents are afraid that the baby might freeze. But the greater danger is overheating. When it's freezing, it starts screaming. However, it tends to sleep after overheating. However, breathing and circulation can be impaired. The ideal room temperature for children in the waking state is 18 to 20 degrees Celsius for sleeping at 16 to 18 degrees Celsius. You can check this with a thermometer in the bedroom. Do not dress the baby too thickly. From the fourth week of life babies do not need more clothing in the house than their parents. For sleeping - except for the nappy - undershirt, if necessary pyjamas and sleeping bag are sufficient. In summer, at high ambient temperatures, the underwear is also sufficient. Do not put on a sleeping cap: the baby's head should be uncovered so that excess heat can be released through the scalp. Never dress your child so warmly during the day that it starts sweating.

5. no passive smoking for children

The risk for your baby to die of Sudden Infant Death increases with every cigarette smoked! Therefore, do not smoke during pregnancy, breastfeeding and around the infant - for your baby's sake and for the sake of yourself. Convince your family not to smoke in the presence of your baby.

6. cot next to parents' bed

If the child is still very young, you just want to take it to bed with you. This can sometimes be more practical because of the nocturnal breastfeeding. However, it is better if the baby is lying in his or her own bed - in the parents' slumber. Stellen Sie das Babybett nicht direkt neben die Heizung oder in die Sonne. Dies hilft, eine Überwärmung zu vermeiden.

Copyright: Landeszentrale fuer Gesundheitsfoerderung in Rheinland-Pfalz e.V. (LZG) Germany

Text: Dr. Beatrice Wagner, Redaktion: Birgit Kahl