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Creating the Best Sleep Environment for your Child

Creating the Best Sleep Environment for your Child

Have you ever seen the movie “Terms of Endearment”?

As a child of the 80’s I have seen it a few times. Like many films from the past, it depicts outdated attitudes and practices and one of the most cringy examples is in the very first scene. 

The main character Aurora, a brand new mother, is standing outside her infant daughter’s dark bedroom – worrying. Worrying about the safety of her baby as the newborn sleeps. 

Her husband can be heard off camera screaming “it’s not good for her to keep checking on her and imagining one bad thing after another!”

Then the main character creeps into her daughter’s room and does something that we have all done. She leans over her sleeping baby in her crib and jossles her to make sure she is still breathing. When the baby cries out briefly, Aurora breathes a sigh of relief and leaves the room murmuring, “That’s better.”

It’s a funny scene but also alarmingly problematic. The scene takes place in the 60s and is fraught with imagery that would make any modern pediatric sleep consultant gasp in distress. 

The newborn baby is sleeping in her own room, on her tummy, literally surrounded by blankets, sheets, pillows and stuffed toys. There is also a dangerously low hanging mobile dangling into the crib. 

It’s insanely ironic that Aurora is so worried about her newborn suffocating, yet she has placed her face down in a pillow and surrounded her with what we now know are suffocation hazards. She has unknowingly increased the chances of a tragedy occurring, simply because she is living in a time when little was known about how to prevent SIDS. 

It’s also ironic that she probably thought she was creating a cozy and positive sleep environment by placing her baby among all of those hazards.

The concept of safe infant sleep has emerged since those days but many new parents still struggle to find a balance between creating a safe sleep environment and providing a  cozy, comfy sleep space. The goal of this post is to show you how to find that balance and aid you in creating the best sleep environment for your child at any age. 

Creating the Best Sleep Environment for your Child Newborn 

Co- Sleeping with Caregivers 

The American Academy of Pediatrics  and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend co-sleeping for the first 6 months of a baby’s life.

Keep in mind – and I really want to stress this – co-sleeping does NOT mean bed sharing. Bed sharing with your infant is inherently dangerous and although there are ways to make it safer, there is always a risk of injury or worse if you choose to bed share, especially if your baby is younger than one year. 

Co-sleeping means that your baby sleeps in the same room as you, in a separate sleep space. 

Paediatricians make this recommendation because when you are sharing the same sleep environment as your child, you can monitor the sleep environment and your baby. Specifically, you can quickly respond if your baby is too hot, cold, hungry or uncomfortable.

There are many products that make co-sleeping easier for new parents. A crib or bassinet that can be placed next to your bed is a good option.  Bedside sleepers that can be attached to an adult bed are even better.  

While your infant is in her separate sleep space, there should be nothing else in the crib. Stuffed toys, pillows, sheets, blankets, bumpers and anything else you can think of are all suffocation hazards. All that is necessary during the first year of your baby’s life is a firm mattress and a tight fitting mattress cover. 

You might be asking yourself, how do I create the best sleep environment for my baby if I can’t use anything to make the crib cozy? There are few things you can do:

Creating the best sleep environment for your child 

Swaddling your newborn

Swaddling has been used for centuries to settle newborns. Swaddling is meant to mimic the womb environment and it also prevents a baby’s Moro reflex from activating. The Moro reflex, which disappears between 3 and 6 months of age, causes the baby to suddenly stretch out her arms and gives her the sensation of falling. This tends to happen when your baby is asleep, making her wake up suddenly. When creating the best sleep environment for your child, swaddling is ideal for newborns. Unsure of how to safely swaddle your baby? Here is my step by step instructional video on how to safely swaddle. Remember, once your baby begins to roll, stop swaddling and switch to a sleep sack. 

Creating the best sleep environment for your child Temperature

It may surprise you to learn that temperature is crucial to your infant’s safety. Overheating can be fatal for infants so be aware of this when dressing your baby for sleep. Consider the amount of clothing that you are wearing and add one layer for your baby. 

Ensure that the room is not too hot or too cold by measuring the temperature and adjusting accordingly. The ideal room temperature for your baby is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 to 22 degrees celsius. 

Creating the Best Sleep Environment for your Child

Roughly 4 to 12 months of age 

Sleep Sacks 

As your baby gets older, much of the same recommendations for safe sleep apply. There should be nothing in the crib that could be considered a suffocation or strangulation hazard. 

It is still considered unsafe to give your baby a blanket at this age but you can put your baby in a sleep sack. A sleep sack is basically a wearable blanket that usually has a zipper in the front. Sleep sacks come in winter and summer varieties and range in sizes, allowing your baby to wear a sleep sack into the toddler years. They are also a great way to prevent your toddler from climbing out of the crib as he gets older. 

Darkness 

Controlling the darkness level in your baby’s room is part of creating the best sleep environment for your child. 

A dark room can help your baby settle and get good sleep between feedings. 

It’s impossible to eliminate every glimmer of light, but try to make the room as dark as possible. I often get asked if babies are afraid of the dark but it’s important to remember that fear is an emotion that requires imagination and imagination requires life experiences. Your baby doesn’t have enough memories to develop a fear of the dark but this can happen later in childhood. 

White or Pink Noise 

Controlling the noise level in your child’s room is also crucial to creating the best sleep environment for your child. 

Babies are naturally light sleepers so little household noises that you would sleep through, may wake your child. A white or pink noise machine will absorb noise so your baby is not disturbed. Remember to place your noise machine at least 6 feet away from your baby’s head and set the volume to 50 decibels or less. 

Creating the Best Sleep Environment for your Child  

12 months to 2 years 

Hallelujah! You made it through the first year of parenthood! The safety recommendations regarding your baby’s sleep environment relax tremendously when your baby has his first birthday because the chances of SIDS are very low after 12 months. 

Bed sharing becomes much less dangerous, as long as you can prevent your baby from falling out of your bed. This can be achieved by sleeping on a mattress on the floor or placing safety rails along the sides of the bed. 

If you want to encourage independent sleep, here are some tips for safe toddler sleep:

  • Continue to let your baby sleep in a crib for as long as possible. Place the mattress as close to the floor as possible to prevent your baby from climbing out. When he starts to swing his legs over the top of the crib, it’s time to start thinking about getting a toddler bed. 
  • At 12 months you can introduce a blanket to your child’s sleep environment. However, the blanket should be firmly tucked under the bottom of the crib to prevent accidental strangulation. A small soft baby blanket is perfect for a 12 month old. The temperature of the room should still be regulated and comfortable and you can still put your baby in a sleep sack. As stated earlier, the sleep sack helps prevent the baby from climbing out of the crib.  
  • You may introduce a favourite stuffy toy but keep them small or midsize; nothing bigger than the child’s head. 

Creating the Best Sleep Environment for your Child 

2 to 4 years 

2 years of age marks another sleep milestone for your baby. You may now introduce a pillow into your child’s sleep space as well as sheets and heavier blankets. You can still keep your baby in a crib, as long as she is not able to climb out. Once she is able to get out of the crib, it’s time for a toddler bed. A toddler bed that is equipped with a safety rail is ideal. Children at this age are still getting used to the bed’s dimensions and can easily fall out while tossing and turning. Most toddler beds have a small opening in the rail that allows the child to climb in and out on their own, meaning that your baby will be able to get out of bed safely. 

At this point, the safety concerns move from the inside of your child’s bed, to the outside. Once your toddler can move freely about her room, it’s time to child proof. Here are some tips for making your child’s room safer:

  • Equip your outlets with outlet plugs or plug covers.
  • Make sure there are no drawstrings from window blinds within reach.These can be strangulation hazards.
  • Anker any heavy furniture to the wall. Children love to climb on dressers, bookshelves, ect. Ensure that heavy furniture cannot tip over. 
  • Make sure any toys left in the room overnight are age appropriate and are not choking hazards. 
  • Place a yellow or red night light in the room so your child can see if he gets out of bed in the middle of the night. Avoid white night lights as they can throw off circadian rhythm however, it is around this age that your child may ask you to leave a hallway light on with the door open. I’m not opposed to this if it makes them feel better about sleep. 

Want some more tips on creating the best sleep environment for your child? Book your complimentary 30 minute consultation with Beautiful Baby Sleep today.