Your Health

Choose safer sleep products for your baby

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Photo of Karen Kyliuk. JENNIFER EAGLESHAM
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, November 3, 2017

As most new parents know, the marketplace is loaded with products for babies.

There are, of course, the “must haves:” car seats, cribs, strollers, baby monitors, and any number of other items that are intended to make life with baby easier or more convenient. But there are also a lot of products out there that are unsafe, or could be unsafe if not used properly.

Some products designed to help babies sleep can fall into this latter category. They include certain types of sleep sacks, swaddling sacks, swaddle blankets, wearable blankets or baby sleeping bags.

The problem with some of these products is that their designs can put babies at risk of suffocating, overheating, or choking. This is particularly true for babies up to one year of age, as they can easily pull a loose blanket or sleep sack over their nose or mouth. In some cases, these products can be too tight around baby’s chest, which can affect breathing or restrict the baby’s legs which can affect how the hips develop. 

As a parent, you may wonder how dangerous products can find their way onto store shelves. Most people think that if a product is on the shelf, it has been approved by Health Canada. But Health Canada doesn’t approve products prior to sale. It works to remove unsafe products from the market after there have been reported safety incidents or when they find products that are banned, recalled or don’t meet safety standards. In other words, you can’t assume a product is safe to use just because it is available in stores.  

As a result, it is important to be up to speed when it comes to sleep safety for your baby. Let’s start with the basics.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that babies be dressed in just a sleeper and put to sleep in a crib with no pillows, blankets or extra bedding.
Experts also recommend against swaddling a baby for sleep as this can put baby at risk of suffocation.

That’s not to say parents need to refrain from swaddling their infant altogether. If your baby is crying and not able to settle, it is okay to swaddle as a way to comfort your crying baby while he or she is awake.

Some parents may feel that a simple sleeper may not keep their baby warm enough. In these cases, you may use a light blanket to tuck your baby in. Your baby should be placed with feet touching the foot of the crib, and the blanket should be at armpit level and tucked in on both sides and at the bottom of the crib. What you want to avoid is a loose blanket that the infant can pull over his or her mouth and nose. 

A sleep sack, or one of its many variations, may also provide extra warmth for a baby, but it is important to remember that some of these products can be potentially dangerous. If you do choose to purchase one of these sleeping products, choose wisely. A pamphlet produced by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority advises that you should look for ones that:

  • Do not have drawstrings, ribbons, cords or tight elastic;
  • Do not have buttons, snaps or decorations which could become loose and cause choking;
  • Do not have a hood, collar, or wrap near the face that could cover baby’s mouth and nose;
  • Are made from a breathable, lightweight fabric;

In addition, the product should fit your baby properly, and should:

  • Be snug around the upper body so that baby is unable to wriggle out of or into the sack;
  • Not be tight around baby’s chest. You should be able to get two fingers between baby’s chest and the sack;
  • Be loose around the hips. Your baby’s legs and hips should bend and move comfortably.

Being a new parent can be stressful and information on the internet and advice of family and friends can be confusing and conflicting. If you have questions about caring for your baby, contact your pediatrician, public health nurse or Health Links – Info Santé at (204) 788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257.

Jennifer Eaglesham is a public health nurse with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, November 3, 2017.

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