Keeping baby safe in bed: the first 6 weeks

Every year too many New Zealand babies die suddenly during sleep. Many of these deaths can be prevented.

Title: Your Child: Safe Sleep.  Episode 13 of 15.

Title: Raukura & Aaron’s Whānau

[Shots of Raukura and Aaron’s home.]

Carmen (voice-over): Parents can make sure that every sleep for baby is a safe sleep by having good knowledge and sharing it with their whanau, or anybody else that's going to look after their baby.

[Interview with Carmen.]

Title: Carmen Timu-Parata, Well Child Tamariki Ora Nurse

Carmen: Kia ora koutou. Ko Carmen Timu-Parata. Nō Ngāti Kahungunu. I'm a Well Child / Tamariki Ora Nurse. We're at the home of Raukura and Aaron, and we've also come to see baby Rehua for their Well Child visit and to focus on safe sleep environments.

[Interview with Raukura.]

Raukura: My name's Raukura Maxwell. I'm twenty-eight years old, and just had my first son, and his name is Rehua Rex Randall.

[Shot of Rehua in bed.]

Title: Rehua, 9 weeks old

Raukura (voice-over): Rehua has his own cot in our room, next to our bed.

[Interview with Carmen.]

Carmen: We recommend that baby is in the same room as their parents, up to at least six months of age.

[Interview with Raukura.]

Raukura: We thought it was safer to put him in his own cot next to us. One, because it's closer to us so we can hear him, and two, so he's not sleeping with us.

Raukura (voice-over): Rehua has his own cot in our room, next to our bed.

[Interview with Carmen.]

Carmen: When you are looking for a good sleep space for baby, there might be options – for example a bassinet, maybe a cot. Other options may be a wahakura or a Pēpi-Pod.

[Raukura places a mattress in a cot.]

Raukura (voice-over): When me and my partner were talking about where to sleep baby, and what to sleep baby in, we read in our Tamariki Ora book about the best kind of mattress to have. So having a firm mattress that fit the bassinet or the cot, that was really important to us. So we measured up and got new mattresses for both.

[Raukura and Carmen interact with Rehua, who is lying in his cot.]

Carmen (voice-over): It's really important that baby's face is clear of things like extra toys, any bumper pads, pillows, sharp objects or curtain cords.

[Carmen checks the cot.]

Raukura (voice-over): We don't put anything else in the bed but the blanket. We don't use toys or put up mobiles just in case something could fall off and he could swallow it. Even with the bumper, he could suffocate on it. It's just for our peace of mind.

[Raukura demonstrates to Carmen how she puts Rehua to bed.]

Carmen (voice-over): It's really important when baby is sleeping that they're lying on their backs, feet first, at the foot of the bed. Basically, if baby wants to go anywhere or wriggle down, they've got nowhere to go. If you want to go to a party or anything, it's important that you have a safe plan for baby, and that baby has their own safe sleep space, and that whoever is looking after baby, that they're sober when taking care of baby.

[Interview with Carmen.]

Carmen: What we know about breastfeeding is that babies who are breastfed are less likely to die unexpectedly, so it's a really good thing to keep breastfeeding until six months and even beyond that.

[Interview with Raukura.]

Raukura: I chose to breastfeed because it's cheaper and it's free, and it meant that he could get all the colostrum, or what they call "liquid gold".

[Raukura plays with Rehua.]

Carmen (voice-over): For many parents that are getting up for the night feeds, it's really important that you're feeding baby and that you are also placing baby back down in their own bed by themselves, and not in the bed with you. It's really important that wherever baby is the environment is smokefree and they're kept away from any kind of cigarette smoke.

[Interview with Raukura.]

Raukura: My partner and I, we don't smoke, but I have lots of family members who do. So the rule when they walk in our door is, you come in, and if you've had a smoke, wash your hands, wash your face too, and only then can you hold baby. I'm hard on that.

[Raukura wraps Rehua and puts him to bed.]

Carmen (voice-over): One of the most common things to do as a parent or caregiver is to overheat baby by putting lots of clothes on, and that can actually make baby sweat and get quite stressed, so it's important they’re at a comfortable temperature.

Raukura (voice-over): At the moment, it's summer, so it's quite hot in our house. I make sure to just wrap him. We've got a thick wrapping blanket and a thin one. So I put him in a thin one when it's hot at night, and I’ve got a second blanket if I need to.

[Interview with Carmen.]

Carmen: It's really important that every sleep baby has is a safe sleep, and that they actually go back into their own bed by themselves.

Title: Our thanks to the families and health workers who appeared in this video for the Ministry of Health. Find out more about pregnancy and child health on

You can help to keep your baby safe in bed by:

  • making sure that your baby is in their own bed for every sleep (and in the same room as you or the person looking after them at night)
  • making sure that your baby is on their back for every sleep
  • having a smokefree home and car
  • exclusively breastfeeding your baby to around 6 months of age and continuing to breastfeed them until 12 months of age
  • immunising your baby on time

Make every sleep a safe sleep

Sudden unexpected death is a risk to babies until they are about 12 months old, but most deaths can be prevented.

There are things that we can do to protect our babies. Although for some babies the cause of death is never found, most deaths happen when the babies are sleeping in an unsafe way.

Always follow these safe-sleep routines for your baby and your baby’s bed.

Make sure that your baby is safe

To keep your baby safe while sleeping, make sure:

  • they always sleep on their back to keep their airways clear
  • they are in their own bassinet, cot or other baby bed (eg, pēpi-pod® or wahakura) – free from adults or children who might accidentally suffocate them
  • they are put back in their own bed after feeding – don’t fall asleep with them (to protect your back, feed your baby in a chair rather than in your bed)
  • they have someone looking after them who is alert to their needs and free from alcohol or drugs
  • they have clothing and bedding that keeps them at a comfortable temperature – one more layer of clothing than you would wear is enough; too many layers can make your baby hot and upset them
  • they are in a room where the temperature is kept at 20°C.

You can check that your baby is warm but not too hot by feeling the back of their neck or their tummy (under the clothes). Baby should feel warm, but not hot or cold. Your baby will be comfortable when their hands and feet are a bit colder than their body.

Make sure that your baby’s bed is safe

Baby’s bed is safe when:

  • it has a firm and flat mattress to keep your baby’s airways open
  • there are no gaps between the bed frame and the mattress that could trap or wedge your baby
  • the gaps between the bars of baby’s cot are between 50 mm and 95 mm – try to get one with the gaps closer to 50 mm if you can
  • there is nothing in the bed that might cover your baby’s face, lift their head or choke them – no pillows, toys, loose bedding, bumper pads or necklaces (including amber beads and ‘teething’ necklaces)
  • baby has their feet close to the end of the bed so they can’t burrow under the blankets
  • baby is in the same room as you or the person looking after them at night for their first 6 months of life.

It is never safe to put your baby to sleep in an adult bed, on a couch or on a chair.

If you choose to sleep in bed with your baby, put them in their own baby bed beside you – for example, a pēpi-pod® or wahakura. This may help to reduce the risk of your baby suffocating while they are asleep.

Information about using a pēpi-pod® or wahakura is available on these websites: 

Car seats and capsules

Car seats or capsules protect your baby when travelling in the car. Don’t use them as a cot or bassinet.

Car seats and capsules are not safe for your baby to sleep in when you are at home or at your destination.

If you don’t have a baby bed

If you don’t have a baby bed, talk to your midwife or nurse. If you are on a low income, you may be able to get a Special Needs Grant from Work and Income to buy a bed. See the Work and Income website or call 0800 559 009.

Related websites

Keep your baby safe during sleep – HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health)
A pamphlet with key messages about making every sleep a safe sleep to prevent babies dying suddenly in their sleep.

PEPE: safe sleep videos – Northland District Health Board and Hāpai
Four online videos showing the safe sleep PEPE messages – Place, Eliminate, Position, Encourage. 

Hāpai te Hauora National SUDI Prevention Coordination Service

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