Monday Medical: Safe sleep for infants |

Monday Medical: Safe sleep for infants

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Unfortunately for exhausted parents everywhere, there’s no easy answer for getting your baby to sleep more. But there are steps you should take to keep your baby safe when sleeping.

Dr. Dana Fitzgerald, a pediatrician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, outlines how to make sure your baby gets a good — and safe — night’s sleep.

Sleeping the day away

Babies should get about 14 to 17 hours of sleep each day. Some will sleep more, even up to 19 hours in a 24-hour period, while others may sleep less, closer to 12 hours each day.

All of that sleep has a purpose. It helps your baby’s brain develop properly.

“Sleep is so helpful for brain development, in terms of making sure neural pathways are developing as they should,” Fitzgerald said.

Expect challenges

Infants often have their days and nights mixed up at first. To encourage a more regular schedule, Fitzgerald recommends feeding your baby at least every three hours during the day. When feeding and changing at night, make sure it’s quiet and dark.

Don’t expect babies to sleep for long stretches right away.

“Newborns have a two to three-hour sleep cycle, so most babies are up every three hours for feeding,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t recommend any sleep training prior to three or four months of age. Most babies aren’t going to be able to do that, and they do need to eat.”

Create a safe sleep environment

Babies should sleep in a crib or bassinet with a firm mattress or a co-sleeper that attaches to the side of a parent’s bed and provides a separate, sleep environment and not much else.

“No bumpers, no loose blankets, no stuffed animals, no pillows,” Fitzgerald said. “There have been deaths associated with babies getting strangled in bumpers, and there’s no benefit of the bumpers — they’re just there to make cribs look pretty.”

Avoid snoozing outside the crib

Babies shouldn’t spend hours sleeping in car seats, strollers or baby chairs, all of which can position babies in a way that makes it harder for them to get oxygen and can even lead to suffocation.

“You don’t have to be worried about your baby falling asleep in the car seat on a drive to Denver once a month,” Fitzgerald said. “But if it’s every day, the child may not be getting enough oxygen.”

Also avoid co-sleeping, which can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

Back to sleep

Studies have clearly shown that putting a baby to sleep on his or her back greatly decreases risk of SIDS. Older babies who start to roll over and sleep on their stomachs can be left in that position.

“You don’t have to roll them back over to their backs, but it reinforces the importance of making sure they’re in a safe sleep area with no bumpers or pillows,” Fitzgerald said.

Sleep aids

Don’t ditch that pacifier: going to sleep with a pacifier actually helps decrease risk of SIDS. Swaddling is also fine, but make sure the swaddle allows for some range of motion and stop swaddling at two months, when babies may begin to roll over.

Never let a baby sleep with a bottle, as it increases risks of cavities and ear infections, among other issues. Babies with reflux should not sleep with wedges or other positioners that keep them more upright at night.

As for products that track a baby’s heart rate and oxygen level, you can take them or leave them.

“There haven’t been any studies showing these decrease the risk of SIDS,” Fitzgerald said. “If they help you sleep better at night, that’s great. But what has been shown is they can increase parental anxiety and cause more issues.”

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider with questions. And if your baby is experiencing a challenging period of sleep, remember that sometimes, the best action is to give it time.

“Sleep with infants can be tough,” Fitzgerald said. “I tell people that often, the best thing for sleep issues is the tincture of time.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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