04.Bedding and accessories
The asthma connection
- It’s been suggested there’s a link between the high incidence of asthma in Australian and New Zealand children and the use of sheepskins and lambskins for baby rugs in these countries. This is because the wool pile of the tanned skin is a good breeding ground for house dust mites, which are known to trigger asthma attacks in many sufferers.
- Dust mites are invisible to the naked eye; they thrive on dead skin and the conditions provided by bedding and carpets. Research from the University of Sydney, reported in 1988, showed that one gram of dust from sheepskins contained twice as many dust mites as normal blankets.
- It was also found that sheepskins used in hospitals didn’t have these enormous populations of mites, principally because of the severe washing procedures they undergo in hospital—very hot water for washing and rinsing and high temperatures for drying. Domestic washing routines tend not to involve such high temperatures, but they are essential to keep a baby sheepskin or lambskin free from the mites.
- If you do buy a tanned skin product for your baby, we suggest that you wash it regularly in very hot water (50°–55°C).
- The Asthma Foundation of NSW recommends that you have your child tested to see whether they are allergic to dust mite before you introduce costly measures to reduce allergens in your home.
Sheets and other bedding
- Cot-size sheets are available in pure cotton or cotton/polyester mixes. Polyester mixes are easy to wash and dry. Cotton is probably more comfortable in hot weather.
- Fitted sheets are very convenient.
- You can easily make the much smaller sheets needed to fit cradles and bassinets, and it’s economical, too. Alternatively, use cot sheets, either folded or with the excess material tucked tightly under the mattress.
- If you can’t find or don’t want to buy bassinet sheets, you can use a full-size pillowcase around some mattresses.
- You’ll need two or three blankets, possibly more, depending on the climate. Cotton cellular or waffle weave blankets are an easy-care option.
- Bassinet-size blankets can be used in the cot when your baby has outgrown the bassinet, just use the blankets sideways. They can also be used on the cot mattress, providing an extra layer between the bottom sheet and mattress protector or mattress.
- Cot blankets can be folded in half when your baby’s small.
- Mattress protectors can save a lot of hassle—just make sure they fit well (check that the height of a fitted mattress protector is okay for your size mattress). Waterproof backing increases their efficiency, but in a hot, humid environment, may make baby sweat. Using a cotton blanket, a towel or cloth nappies between the sheet and mattress protector might do the trick.
Bunny rugs and other wraps
Large squares of flannelette cloth or muslin, also called cuddlies. They’re usually used for wrapping around babies for comfort and security, as well as warmth, although not all babies like being wrapped.
- They can be used as sheets and light coverings in the pram.
- Large ones (around a metre square) are more useful than smaller ones.
- Sleeping bags are useful in cold weather as they keep the baby covered up.
- A young baby may fit into a quilted, papoose-style zipped bag. It shouldn’t be much longer than the baby, though, so the baby doesn’t slide down inside and suffocate.
- Some styles have handles so you can carry the baby in the bag.
- For older children larger versions are available with sleeves but no separated leg section, so the bottom half is the bag.
- If you plan to use a sleeping bag for your child, get them used to sleeping in one well before they learn to walk. This way they probably won’t attempt to walk while wearing it, on or off the bed.
- Baby-size quilts are available in a variety of weights and fabrics, from inexpensive polyester-filled versions to very warm and luxurious feather and down styles.
- Pick lightweight bedding so your baby doesn’t overheat.
- Chain stores are a good source of inexpensive bedding.
- Be aware, however, that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) organisations recommend not using a quilt, doona, duvet or pillow for babies in their first year.
Young babies don’t need pillows. Indeed, they may present a suffocation hazard if the baby rolls face down and is then unable to change position.
If you want to raise the baby’s head slightly (when the baby has a blocked nose caused by a cold, for example), place a small pillow or rolled-up towel under the mattress itself.
And it isn’t only newborns who have problems with pillows: after the deaths of three toddlers in three years associated with U-shaped pillows, a South Australian coroner in June 1998 called for a warning to be issued against children under two using these pillows.
We don’t recommend using cot bumpers. Anything with strings or ribbons attached is a potential strangulation or choking hazard in a cot.
An inquisitive child may even use a firmly padded bumper to gain a foothold while attempting to climb out of the cot.
Or a young baby may roll against it and suffocate.
Mosquito nets come in cotton and synthetic materials and should be cleaned regularly as they attract dust.
Some children may have quite severe reactions to mosquito bites such as intense itching, swelling and redness, and a net provides reliable, non-chemical protection. Loose or ill-fitting window and door screens need replacing if they are to be effective.
Nets for bassinets and cradles may be included in a quilt and liner set.
A larger net for a single bed needs some means of attaching it to the wall or ceiling, although you can also buy netting with a stand.
Pure cotton netting is available from department and fabric stores for do-it-yourselfers.
Baby monitors can give you some peace of mind, especially if you’re a first-time parent and a little unsure about what to expect. However, for many parents it’s likely you’ll never need to use it at all.
Baby monitors operate on public transmission frequencies, so third parties who have an appropriate receiver (such as a two-way radio, walkie-talkie, CB (citizens’ band) unit or baby monitor) could listen in to conversations you have near the baby monitor.
What to look for
On the baby unit:
Mains operation, and battery operation if you want to use it in areas without mains power, such as, out camping.
A night light, if you intend to use one anyway.
On the parent unit:
Mains and battery operation, so you can take the unit with you in and around the house.
A belt clip.
A light display to indicate the sound level, if you want to see the noise your child makes rather than hear it—while you’re watching TV or vacuuming, for example, or if you or your babysitter has problems with hearing.
On both units:
At least two different frequencies to choose from (in case of interference.
Battery condition indicator.
Automatic battery back-up is useful in areas where power failures are common.
A cord long enough for your set-up.
If space is a problem, and you’re looking ahead to a time when the children may share a room, you may consider buying a bunk bed.
There’s a wide range on the market varying in size, style and features, some of which could seriously compromise a child’s safety. A trundle bed (a single bed with an additional mattress and base that slide away underneath) is a much safer option.
It’s almost accepted that kids will fall out of bunk beds. However, such a fall can cause serious injuries. Each year about 4000 Australian children need medical care because of injuries related to bunk beds. Because children under nine have a particularly high rate of injury with bunk beds, Kidsafe advice (from the Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia) is to use the bottom bunk for young children, if you have to use a bunk bed. After the age of 12, the casualty rate declines.
The Australian Standard for bunk beds (AS/NZS 4220) is now mandatory, so in theory all bunk beds on the market should meet the Standard. However this is no guarantee.
What to look for
A bunk bed should be stable and strongly made. A good ‘on-the-spot’ test is to place one foot against the foot of the bunk and pull it toward you. You shouldn’t be able to raise the bed posts off the ground even if you’re a reasonably strong person.
Buy the lowest bunk available. The lower the bunk, the less risk of injury. The recommended maximum height is 1550mm to the top of the upper mattress. Even 150mm might mean the difference between bruises and a broken arm.
The design shouldn’t have any hanging points—places where cords and clothing can get snagged—and there should be no holes or gaps that can trap heads, legs and arms.
There must be a guardrail at least 160mm above the mattress all the way around the top bed. It can have gaps, but they should be no wider than 400mm. The guardrail should be high enough to prevent a child rolling out of bed, even if they are sleeping on a thick mattress. There should also be several vertical rails to make sure a child can’t inadvertently roll under the safety rail during the night.
Unless it’s bolted to a wall, it must have a guardrail on the wall side, too, to prevent a child slipping down the gap and getting their head caught.
Check the release mechanism of the guardrails. A child shouldn’t be able to release them accidentally.
A mattress height indicator on the top bunk will help you select the correct mattress for that bed. A mattress that’s too thick will reduce the effectiveness of the safety rail.
The ladder should be permanently fixed to the bunk. It should be easy to use by children, even when getting out of bed sleepily in the dark. Look for rungs that are at least 30cm wide and spaced evenly and appropriately. The sides should be narrow enough for a child’s hands to grip. The angle of the ladder should ideally be between 65° and 90° to the floor; an absolutely vertical ladder (90°) is more difficult to climb than one with a slope. Make sure there’s plenty of foot room between the rungs and the mattress. A ladder that exits on to the mattress and has high handles is easier to climb and therefore safer than any other.
To reduce the risk of accidental entrapment or strangulation (if a child were to slip, for example), no accessible gap (600mm or more above the floor) should be between 75 mm and 230mm (to prevent head entrapment), or 30mm and 50mm (to prevent limb entrapment); no accessible gap at any height should be between 5mm and 12mm to prevent finger entrapment.