01.A safe sleeping environment
Use the checklist below to make sure you have taken all necessary steps to guarantee your baby’s safe sleeping environment. Buying a cot that meets the requirements of the Australian Standard is only the first step to reduce the risk.
- Put your baby on their back to sleep—not on their tummy.
- Leave the baby’s head uncovered when sleeping—don’t put a hat, hood or rug on the baby’s head.
- Position the baby’s feet at the bottom of the cot. Make up the cot so the baby’s head can neither slide under the bed clothes nor get trapped against the head of the cot.
- Place the cot away from windows, heaters or power points. This will reduce the risk of injuries or death by strangulation (from curtains/cords), falls, burns and electrocution.
- Leave the space above the cot free of objects such as pictures or mirrors that could fall on the child.
- If the cot has an adjustable base, move it to the lowest setting as soon as the child is able to sit unaided.
- Check the cot regularly for signs of wear. Repair peeling paint or transfers immediately, as a child may swallow and choke on them.
- Once your child can stand in the cot, remove anything that they could use as a climbing aid – large toys, cot bumper, pillows etc.
- Don’t allow small objects that could cause the child to choke to be placed in the cot or anywhere within reach of the child.
- Don’t leave mobiles or toys with stretch/elastic cords in or within reach of cots.
- Don’t place soft, fluffy products such as pillows or comforters under babies while they sleep.
- Don’t use V- or U-shaped pillows for children under two years of age. Small children can become wedged in the pillow and suffocate. It’s safer not to use a pillow at all for children under two.
- Quilts, doonas, duvets and cot bumpers aren’t recommended in a cot for babies under one year.
- Never use electric blankets or hot-water bottles for babies or young children.
- When the child is able to climb out of the cot, it’s time to move them to a bed or a mattress on the floor.
Please note: this information was current as of September 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
Scottish study found that babies who slept on a mattress that had been used by others had an increased rate of cot death. There could be a number of reasons for the finding:
- A mattress that’s been used for a long time is likely to be softer than a new mattress. A soft mattress is a SIDS risk.
- A used mattress may be dirtier than a new mattress. SIDS and Kids recommends you use a clean, well-fitting, firm mattress.
- CHOICE recommends you at least buy a new cot or cradle/bassinet mattress if you’re buying secondhand or borrowing from someone else.
Bassinets and cradles
Tiny newborn babies may not easily settle in the comparatively large space a cot offers; an attractive, if short-lived, alternative is a bassinet or a cradle.
- A bassinet is usually woven of willow, cane or plastic, and often comes with a hood or raised frame over which you can drape a mosquito net. If it’s on a wheeled stand, you can move it easily from room to room. But babies grow out of them quite quickly (at about four to five months). You may have to get a mattress separately. If you’re also buying a wheeled stand, note that some stands will fit both bassinet and bath. Some strollers can be used as a pram by means of a detachable bassinet.
Cradles are usually made from wood, and mattresses may cost extra. They too are quickly outgrown. They have a lateral rocking action which may soothe an upset baby. However, it’s been suggested that babies might actually find the side-to-side motion of a conventional cradle unsettling. Cradles should meet the safety requirements of the Australian Standard AS/NZS 4385.1996 but, like most other standards for baby products, this standard is unfortunately a voluntary one.
What to look for
Both cradle/bassinet and mattress must be designed for good ventilation to minimise the risk of asphyxiation. Make sure the mattress is firm and not too thick. Cradles that rock should have a locking device and a tilt limiter or self-levelling limiter:
- A rocking cradle locking device lets you lock the cradle into a level position when you leave the room, so the baby can’t tilt the cradle to one side, increasing the risk of suffocation. It also prevents anyone else (like young siblings, for example) from rocking the cradle when you aren’t around.
- A tilt limiter or self-levelling limiter prevents vigorous side-to-side rocking which could cause the baby to fall out of the cradle. The tilt limiter limits the tilt to 5° horizontally, while the self-levelling limiter limits it to 10°.