Helping babies sleep safely

6 Dec 2013 | Child & Youth Mortality Review Committee

Put babies to sleep on their backs and make sure their faces are clear of bedding – those are two of the messages for parents during Safe Sleep Day today.

Dr Nick Baker, co-Chair of the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee (CYMRC), says Safe Sleep Day is an opportunity to discuss the practical steps parents can take to keep babies and young children safe at night. The CYMRC operates under the umbrella of the Health Quality & Safety Commission.

“The death of a baby or a toddler is always a tragedy and we know from the CYMRC’s reviews of these deaths that there are things families can do to reduce the risks of a sudden unexplained death,” he says.  “Some of these are very simple but may mean the difference between life and death for a sleeping baby.”

Safe sleeping advice includes:

  • putting babies to sleep on their backs so they can breathe unobstructed, and making sure there is no bedding nearby that might cover their faces.  Avoid using pillows or loose blankets, remove any cords from bedding, and ensure there are no gaps in their bed in which they might become wedged
  • make sure babies sleep in a smokefree environment and that the room is not too hot, so they will not overheat while sleeping
  • babies are safest when sleeping in their own cot or bassinette, in the same room as their parents for the first six months of their lives
  • ensure the person looking after a baby is sober and alert to their needs.

Dr Baker says suffocation while sleeping is the leading cause of death in New Zealand from unintentional injury in a baby’s first year of life.

“A lot of this harm is preventable so it’s up to all of us to make sure our babies and young children are able to sleep safely,” he says.

Safekids Aotearoa, the national injury prevention service of Starship Children’s Health, supports Safe Sleep Day and provides parents with important product safety advice, specifically on cots.

“The mandatory standard for household cots requires that the cot has a firm, flat sleeping surface, without any gaps or parts that stick out. This is the best sleeping environment for babies,” said Ann Weaver, Director of Safekids Aotearoa.

To read more about Safe Sleep Day, visit

More information about CYMRC’s work in this area is available at:

Last updated 06/12/2013