Safe Sleep for Babies

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained death of children under 1 year of age. SIDS is the leading cause of death for U.S. infants from 1 month to 1 year.

While there is no specific cause of SIDS, studies show there are three conditions affecting it, and when all three are present, the risk of death could be increased.

Vulnerable Infant

  • Child has an underlying defect or brain abnormality.

Critical Development Period

  • During the first 6 months, children experience rapid growth and changes. Some things are evident such as sleeping and waking patterns, but there could also be subtle signals such as changes in breathing, heart rate, blood pressure or body temperature.

Outside Stressors

  • The following are not believed to single handedly cause death, but may be the tipping point: Sleeping on their stomach, soft sleeping surfaces or loose bedding, overheating, secondhand tobacco smoke, upper respiratory tract infection.

Numerous studies suggest that stomach sleeping may be one of the biggest influences contributing to SIDS due to:

  • An increased chance that the baby will rebreathe its own breath leading to carbon dioxide build up and low oxygen levels.
  • An upper airway obstruction.
  • Interfering with body heat dissipation, leading to overheating.

Infants who sleep on their stomachs:

  • Are less reactive to noise.
  • Experience sudden decreases in heart rate control and blood pressure.
  • Experience less movement, are harder to arouse and have longer periods of deep sleep.

While it’s not good for a baby to sleep on its stomach, it is important that they have “tummy time.” Not only does this prevent flat spots on the baby’s head, it’s an important part of growth helping to make the neck and shoulder muscles stronger which aid in sitting up, crawling and walking. It also improves motor skills. Start with 2-3 sessions per day, for 3-5 minutes each session. As the baby gets older, you can increase the length of the sessions.

To create a safe sleep environment, keep the following in mind:

  • Put infants on a firm sleep surface, or a mattress in a safety-approved crib.¹
  • Do not use pillows, blankets, sheep skins or crib bumpers.
  • Keep soft objects, toys and loose bedding out of sleep area.
  • Do not smoke or let anyone smoke around your baby.
  • Make sure nothing covers the baby’s head.
  • Always place the child on his or her back to sleep.
  • Dress infants in sleeping clothing or a one-piece sleeper, no blankets.
  • Create a sleep area next to where the parents sleep.
  • Infants should not sleep in an adult bed, a couch or a chair, whether alone or with anyone else.

For families who don’t have a safe space for their baby to sleep, Gallatin City-County Health Department has an assistance program to identify the need and provide resources. 406.582.3100.

Childcare connections (Safe Kids) can also be of assistance. 406.587.7786

¹Visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website for more information about crib safety: