A survey of over 7,000 new parents carried out by The Lullaby Trust has shown that 46% have put their baby in an unsafe sleeping environment in order to get them to sleep for longer.
These included unsafe co-sleeping, such as a parent co-sleeping with their baby on their chest or on a sofa or armchair. An adult falling asleep on a sofa or armchair with a baby increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by up to 50 times.
The survey found a third of parents also admitted to putting their baby on their front or side to sleep. Sleeping a baby on their back for every sleep is one of the most protective actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of SIDS. Since this came into public awareness with the Back to Sleep campaign in 1992, the rate of SIDS deaths has dropped by 82%.
Tiredness and difficulty settling their baby were the main reasons parents gave for not following safer sleep guidelines. It seems that unrealistic expectations about how long their baby should sleep for are part of the problem, with 44% of parents stating that they thought their baby should be sleeping for longer than they do in reality. However, it is in fact completely normal and very common for babies to wake during the night until they are at least 12 months old.
Unrealistic expectations surrounding baby sleep can lead parents to believe they are doing something wrong if their baby wakes often during the night. While some babies will sleep for longer at a younger age, the survey found that over half of parents with babies under 1 year old say their baby sleeps for less than 4 hours at a stretch. However, the idea that all babies can and should be sleeping through the night is often promoted by the baby industry through advice on how to achieve this and products marketed with the claim they will make babies sleep for longer.
For tired parents, anything that helps them get more sleep may sound like a good idea, but encouraging a baby to sleep more deeply or for longer than is usual for them can put them at an increased risk SIDS.
Jenny Ward, CEO of The Lullaby Trust says:
‘At The Lullaby Trust, we know from talking to parents and health professionals that parental tiredness is the greatest barrier to consistently following safer sleep practices. Sleep deprivation can be overwhelming, and it can be tempting for parents to do whatever it takes to get their baby to settle. However, we’d like to reassure parents that waking up during the night is completely normal for young babies, and that they shouldn’t feel pressure to try and get their baby to sleep for longer. In order to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the priority needs to be on safer sleep instead of longer sleep. This may be difficult for exhausted parents, but it is vitally important that safer sleep is followed for all sleeps, day and night.’