Safe sleep

Ministry of Health

Every sleep should be a safe sleep for babies, and this means giving them their own safe sleeping space.

Until they’re 12 months old, pēpi are vulnerable to SUDI (sudden unexpected death of an infant). It’s defined as the sudden and unexplained death of an infant during sleep, and each year, it affects 40 to 50 babies. In many cases, death or injury could be prevented by using safe sleep practices.

SUDI is frightening for new parents to think about, but it's important to know the facts and to know the steps you can take to reduce the risk for your baby.

The four key steps to follow to help you keep your baby safe from SUDI spell PEPE:

  • Place baby in their own baby bed in the same room as their parent or caregiver for at least the first six months. Put pēpi to sleep in their own safe sleep space – a bassinet or cot, or a wahakura or Pēpi Pod® if you choose to have your baby in bed with you.
  • Eliminate smoking in pregnancy, and protect baby with a smokefree whānau (family), whare (home) and waka (car).
  • Position baby flat on their back to sleep, with their face clear of bedding or anything else. They should sleep with their feet to the end of their bed, on a firm flat mattress. When pēpi sleeps on their back, their airway is clear and open and this helps them breathe easier.
  • Encourage and support breastfeeding and the gentle handling of baby.

Baby beds: separate sleeping spaces

Bassinet

Many families and whānau use bassinets for their new baby. Normally sitting on fixed legs or casters, bassinets provide a completely separate sleeping space for your baby.

There are a lot of different makes and models of bassinets available in New Zealand. Look for one that has a firm flat mattress, no more than 40 millimetres thick (as it could be a suffocation hazard.) The mattress needs to fit flush to all edges of the bassinet.

Cot

Many families and whānau choose to use a bassinet before using a cot. Cots also offer a separate sleeping space for your baby. Pēpi need to transition to a cot once they can push up or roll over.

There are mandatory safety standards for cots and portacots.

When you’re looking for a cot to buy, check it’s displaying a safety standards sticker so you know it complies with the standards. Cots sold in New Zealand should meet the requirements of safety standard AS/NZS 2172:2003. If you’re unsure when you buy the cot, have a chat to an expert in the store when possible. If you’re buying or are given a second-hand cot, it must meet the mandatory safety standard too. 

Product safety standards: Household cots - Commerce Commission

There are two height settings for the base of most modern cots. When the baby is quite small, the high base involves less bending for adults. The lower base is used when your baby is more mobile.

Portacots can fold down, and are portable. They come with warnings that they shouldn’t be used long-term, and you can’t leave infants unattended in them in case they collapse and injure pēpi. All portable cots sold in New Zealand must meet the requirements of safety standard AS/NZS 2195:2010.

Read more about safety standards for household cots (PDF)

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Baby beds: safe bed-sharing options

If you choose to sleep in bed with your baby, put them in their own baby bed beside you.

Wahakura

The wahakura is woven from flax and enables whānau to keep baby close, including during sleep.

Wahakura are designed so you can sleep next to pēpi and see them over the top of the basket.

Wahakura are a taonga, entrenched in Māori customs and marae values. Wahakura raranga (plaiting) and whiri (braiding) weaving techniques ensure it stays strong, the base stays flat, and the sides won’t collapse.

Image courtesy of Hāpai te Hauora

Guidelines for wahakura change according to the region where they’re made.

You’ll need a 20-25mm foam mattress with a cotton cover, and you need to make sure there are no gaps between the inner wall of the wahakura and the mattress. The National SUDI Prevention Programme's National Safe Sleep Device guidelines provides a summary of guidelines (PDF) for weaving a wahakura.

Pēpi-Pod®

The Pēpi Pod® is made from polypropylene, a food-grade plastic, fitted with a mattress and bedding.

It’s designed so you can share a bed with your baby, while keeping baby safe from accidental suffocation.

Pēpi-Pod®

If you don’t have a baby bed, ask your midwife, doctor, or Plunket nurse for help to get one. If you’re on a low income, you might be able to get help from Work and Income.

Keeping your baby’s bed safe

Baby’s bed is safe when:

  • it has a firm and flat mattress so your baby’s airway is open when lying flat on their back
  • there are no gaps between the bed frame and the mattress that your baby could become trapped or wedged in
  • baby is in the same room as you or the person looking after them at night for their first six months.

These things aren’t safe to use in your baby’s bed:

  • pillows and cushions
  • loose blankets, sheets, covers or other loose bedding
  • bumper pads (pads that attach to the ends and sides of cribs)
  • loose ribbons, ties or threads on a baby’s clothes
  • toys, teething necklaces, or anything they could suffocate or choke on
  • sheepskins aren’t suitable if your family/whānau has a history of asthma or allergy, because they can collect house dust mites. If you want to use a sheepskin, use a short-hair type, and cover it with a sheet.

Check your wahakura, Pēpi Pod®, bassinet and cot are away from items with strings or ties, like:

  • hanging mobiles
  • blind cords (these cords should be wrapped around cleats or safety devices attached to the wall at least 1.6m off the floor)
  • curtains
  • pictures or wall hangings.

Make sure wahakura, Pēpi Pod®, bassinets and cots are away from:

  • power points
  • heaters
  • pets
  • other children.

Keeping baby warm in bed

Your baby’s room should be:

  • well-aired with the door open, especially if you use a heater
  • warm but not too hot - it should feel comfortable for a lightly-clothed adult. It’s a good idea to use an electric heater with a thermostat, because fan heaters can overheat a room and gas heaters can release dangerous fumes.

To make sure your baby is warm enough in bed:

  • use more clothing layers on your baby in cooler weather, rather than adding more layers of bedding. That way your baby can wriggle around in bed while staying safe and warm.
  • if you use a blanket:
    • make sure it’s lightweight and securely tucked in under the mattress, and that it can’t come loose or cover your baby’s face
    • place your baby near the foot of the cot to stop them slipping down under the covers. Keep their face clear of covers by tucking them in firmly.
  • once baby tries to roll over, then stop swaddling or swaddle with arms free.
  • if you use a hot water bottle, take it out of the bed before you put your baby in. Don't use wheat bags to heat a baby's bed, because they can overheat.

You can check your baby’s warm enough by putting two fingers on the top of your baby’s back. If it's warm, then they're warm enough. If your baby's back is hot or sticky, take off a layer or take off some covers.

Making your child’s bedroom safe

Your child’s sleep space should be safe and appropriate to their age – it could be a secure cot, or in a bed with a safety rail.

It’s okay for toddlers and older children to sleep with their security items – their blankie or special toys – as long as they’re small and can’t smother them. Always check for choking hazards which may become sharp, loose or come off when sucked.

Toddlers are curious, and some might start trying to escape their cot by climbing over the railing. Look for things they could use as a step – like toys they could pile up, or bumper pads – and make sure they’re out of the cot at sleep time.

If your child can climb out of the cot, make sure the cot mattress is on the lowest possible setting. If it’s already on the lowest setting and they’re still trying to – or can – get out of the cot, it may be time to move them to a bed with a side rail.

If you’re unsure, talk to your Plunket nurse or midwife to check your child’s sleeping space for any hazards.

Furniture

If furniture tips and falls, it can badly injure your child. Make sure your furniture is sturdy – your child shouldn’t be able to pull it over. You should anchor furniture like book shelves and wardrobes to the wall. Pad sharp corners of furniture with foam or corner protectors.

It’s a good idea to:

  • use power point protectors/safety plugs so your child can’t stick anything in a power point
  • always keep sharp objects out of reach of children
  • put stickers on glass windows and doors at your child’s eye level so they don’t hurt themselves
  • cupboards, doors, and door hinges can hurt children’s fingers. Using door guards can help protect them from injuries.
Need free support or advice?

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