The rules of early parenthood can give you whiplash if you’re not careful: everyone has an opinion and it’s all conflicting. Couple this confusion with new mom exhaustion, and suddenly no choice seems good, nor safe enough for the sweet baby in your arms.
Are you finally ready for something easy? When it comes to adopting safe sleep practices for your little one, the rules are simple and clear: babies should sleep on their backs, on a firm, flat surface, with no blankets, pillows, or toys. That’s it. Class dismissed.
But wait. What if my baby hates their crib?
As it turns out, the rules of safe infant sleep come down to this: location, location, location. No matter the time of day, when it’s time for sleep, health experts advise parents to place babies in their cribs following the rules above. But so often, parents prop little ones in swings and rockers hoping to get some shuteye themselves. And while we here at The Everymom are not in the business of mom-shame, there are real, potentially fatal dangers to letting a baby snooze on anything other than a flat surface. Dr. Mona Amin, a board-certified pediatrician, explained the critical importance of paying attention to baby’s sleeping posture.
There are real, potentially fatal dangers to letting a baby snooze on anything other than a flat surface.
“Baby’s airway is narrow and positioning matters for proper breathing. When baby is flat on their back on a firm surface, this is optimal positioning for their airway,” she said. “When baby falls asleep in a car seat, swing, or any other device where their chin is resting on their chest, this risks proper breathing, as the airway is compressed.”
Dr. Amin shared that this compression of the airway can happen without any other warning signs—which is why it’s so important to avoid this chin-to-chest positioning. When I ask her if it’s all right for a baby to snooze away in a swing if a parent is at their side, she answered hesitantly.
Dr. Amin shared that this compression of the airway can happen without any other warning signs—which is why it’s so important to avoid this chin-to-chest positioning.
“‘Supervised’ truly means sitting in front of the baby to monitor their breathing and visualize their face,” she said, cautioning parents to fully observe baby for neck positioning. “Any unattended sleep (or chance of unattended sleep) should 100 percent be on a flat surface on their back. Overnight sleep should 100 percent be on a flat surface, as you will likely also be sleeping and this is unattended sleep.”
Are there any quick fixes to help baby’s sleep positioning?
As any parent of a small baby can attest, quick fixes and #momhacks are the stuff of new motherhood. I have plenty of memories of MacGyvering any number of baby containers to address the chin-to-chest issue. But when I ask Dr. Amin if there are any ways to make swings, rockers, and the like safe for baby’s sleep, she’s quick to say ‘no.’
“The reality is it’s important to prioritize placing baby flat on their back in a crib or bassinet. For naps that [currently] happen in a swing, I would move baby out of that onto a safe surface if possible. This may require training and repetition to get them used to this new space,” she said. “I am concerned about placing positioners as this doesn’t guarantee safety and observation [to avoid the chin-to-chest position] is better. Moving to a flat surface is even better.”
What if baby falls asleep on the go?
As any new parent knows, babies will doze off when and where they want to. This often means that little ones are drifting off in carriers, car seats, and strollers. So how can we keep Dr. Amin’s safe sleep advice in mind, while also living our lives as parents who need to get things done?
Well, it all comes down to prioritizing that supine position. As the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “If your baby falls asleep in a car seat, stroller, swing, infant carrier, or sling, you should move [them] to a firm sleep surface on [their] back as soon as possible.” And as tempting as it may be to let babies sleep through long car trips, your safest bet may be pulling over every hour while also keeping an eye on their head and neck positioning.