From crib bedding to room sharing, here’s how to ensure better and safer sleep for you and your baby

Of course you want your baby to sleep well. Even more important,you want your baby to sleep safely. While you’ve probably heard plenty about the risks of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)and taken many precautions to protect your little one against it you may not know that there are other largely preventable causes of sleep-related deaths. In fact, as SIDS rates have dropped due to greater awareness, the number of babies who suffocate because they get trapped by bumpers or in gaps or get tangled up in blankets has increased in the past few years. That’s why late last year, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) issued a new set of safety guidelines that are designed to protect babies while they sleep and to help parents rest easier at night.

Check your baby’s sleeping quarters

Make sure the crib, bassinet or portable play yard meets all safety standards and comes with a firm, tight-fitting mattress. If you’re using hand-me-downs, make sure the crib doesn’t have drop-side rails, isnt missing parts and hasn’t been recalled (visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission atcpsc.gov to double-check).

Always put your baby to sleep on her back

Bedtime or nap time, babies are safest when they sleep on their backs. Not their tummies, not their sides. Dont listen to friends who tell you that their newborns snooze better on their bellies. Instead, save tummy time for daytime play sessions when you or another caregiver can keep a close eye on your little one. Once your infant is a pro at rolling over from back to belly and from belly to back she may roll onto her belly on her own, and that’s nothing to stress about. Her new mobility keeps her safer. But for safety’s sake, continue to start her off sleeping on her back.

Banish soft bedding

To reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related injuries or deaths, keep all comforters, blankets, pillows and stuffed animals out of the crib. Instead, cover the mattress with a tight-fitting cotton sheet and nothing else. Don’t use a wedge or sleep positioner, either.

Ditch the crib bumpers

Once considered nursery essentials, bumpers of all kinds even firm or tight-fitting ones are now a nursery no-no, since they’ve been linked to suffocation and other causes of crib deaths. Worried that your little one might bump her noggin or get her tiny feet or arms stuck in a bumper-less crib slat? Dont be. Experts say those risks are minor compared to the risk posed by bumpers.

Avoid overheating

Over-bundling your bundle when she sleeps is another risk factor for SIDS. So dress your baby lightly and swaddle her or add a sleep sack to keep her cozy in a comfortably cool room. Skip the hat and keep that sweet little head uncovered when she’s catching her zs. How can you tell if your baby’s overheated? Check the nape of her neck not her hands or tootsies, which will almost always be cooler to the touch.

Be a roommate, not a bedmate

Keeping your baby close by you at night can also cut the risk of SIDS. But the AAP now strongly advises against bed sharing: all those pillows and fluffy comforters that make the bed a comfy place for grown-ups can be dangerous for little ones. If you need to bring your baby into bed to nurse or soothe her, that’s okay; when you’re ready to nod off, just put her back in a safely outfitted bassinet or crib next to your bed.

Consider giving baby a binky

Several studies show that pacifiers can protect against SIDS by opening up the airspace around an infants nose and mouth.Offer your baby a binky at bedtime and nap time, but don’t worry if she doesn’t take to it or if it falls out of her mouth soon after she falls asleep.

Here’s to sweet and safe dreams for baby and you.

60 Seconds on Foods That Help Toddlers Sleep
Tim Vandehey

00:60 Bananas
The body converts bananas to serotonin and melatonin, hormones that promote sleep. Bananas also contain magnesium, which relaxes muscles and can help little ones nod off.

00:45 Oatmeal
Oatmeal (often with a little sweetener) is very palatable for young children, and oats are a good source of melatonin, which helps bring on sleep naturally. Oats are also rich in vitamin B6, which increases serotonin levels, improving the chances of a deep, restful sleep.

00:30 Honey
A small amount of honey added to warm milk deactivates a neurotransmitter called orexin that produces alertness. Note: Never give honey to children younger than 1-year-old.

00:15 Warm milk
The granddaddy of all children’s sleep aids, warm milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which has a sedative effect. The calcium in milk also helps the brain use tryptophan more effectively. Plus, the simple act of drinking warm milk before bedtime can be soothing and relaxing.

Many foods can help children (and parents) sleep better. Introduce new foods gradually and watch for allergic reactions.

Heidi Murkoff is the author of the best-selling What to Expect series, including What to Expect the First Year. For more of her parenting tips, go to whattoexpect.com.