baby versus toddler safe sleep reference

Safe Sleep Reference Guide

Every new parent has heard of safe sleep and how important it is for babies. Here is a quick safe sleep reference guide with practical tips for safe sleep for infants, young toddlers as well as older toddlers and on.

ABC of safe sleep reference

Infant Safe Sleep (0-12 months)

Here are the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of the ABC’s of safe sleep for newborns and babies 12 months and younger.

Firm mattress specifically intended for infants

DO – Use a cozy sheet that fits snug on the mattress.

DON’T -Don’t add extra padding. Babies’ bodies are very different than ours as adults so try not to judge their comfort based on what your comfort level would be on that mattress.

DON’T – Don’t lay your baby down to sleep on a couch or adult bed. These surfaces are too soft and pose a serious risk to sleeping babies.

Flat sleeping surface

DO – Use the flat firm surface of an infant crib mattress or the mattress that comes with your bassinet/pack’n’play. The firmness is developmentally appropriate, especially as babies start to roll, push up, and explore how their body moves.

DON’T – Don’t add anything to create an incline, unless thoroughly discussed with your doctor. Research shows the incline does not help with reflux unless it is very severe. (This is something that should be discussed in-depth with your pediatrician.) An incline puts baby at risk for positional asphyxiation.

DON’T – If baby falls asleep in a car seat, stroller, swing or another inclined baby device don’t leave them sleeping in there if there is another option available, such as a crib, bassinet or pack’n’play.

Nothing in the sleep space

DO – Place baby down ALONE in the crib. You can wear their pajamas, flat fitted sheet, sleep sack or swaddle (for 8 weeks and younger and no signs of rolling) skin-to-skin before bed so they have the comforting smell of you with them as they sleep.

DON’T – No blankets, pillows, stuffed animals or other extra items in the bed. This includes crib bumpers, including mesh bumpers which cause a risk of strangulation or entrapment.

baby on back alone in crib with sleep sack

Lay baby on their back

DO – Always lay your baby down on their back for sleep. Every time.

DO – Provide supervised, awake tummy time for your baby tummy time every day. This helps with motor development and helps prevent flat head syndrome.

DON’T – No need to worry if baby rolls to their tummy to sleep once they know how to roll both ways (back to tummy and tummy to back).

Toddler Safe Sleep (12 months and up)

Do recommendations change after the 12-month mark? Yup, they do change slightly, so here is your toddler safe sleep reference.

If you have a dual side crib mattress, you can turn it to the toddler side at this point.

DO – If you don’t have a dual side mattress with a specific toddler side, do not worry. Continue to use the crib mattress as is.

DON’T – Don’t add extra padding. Again try not to assume your level of comfort on a certain mattress or surface is the same as your child’s level of comfort. Kids often fall asleep in strange positions and on seemingly uncomfortable surfaces!

toddler with a lovey, teddy bear

If you choose, you can add small lovey to sleep in the crib with your child to help them feel secure.

DO – Choose a small stuffed animal, or small lightweight blanket that your child feels an attachment too. If you child does not have an attachment to something specific, you can help them develop this attachment by choosing a small stuffed friend and including it in your bedtime routine, daily cuddles with your baby. (You can start working to build this attachment during the day prior to introducing during sleep.)

DON’T – Don’t add all the stuffed animals to your child’s crib. You want it to remain a place to sleep, not a place to play. 

If you choose, you can add lightweight blanket

DO – I recommend sticking with a sleep sack as long as you can to serve as a blanket for extra warmth instead of a blanket that your child may find difficult to cover themselves up again after they move around and the blanket comes off.

DON’T – Don’t feel like you need to add a blanket at this point. This is just the earliest age AAP recommendations allow for. 

Older Toddler (2 years and up)

Okay to add a toddler pillow to your child’s sleep space

DO – Check out specific toddler pillows, especially if your child is still in a crib. These pillows are smaller and lightweight for your child. Many are also machine washable and can go in the dryer, which any parent knows is a necessity!

DON’T – Don’t feel like you need to add a pillow if your child doesn’t seem to need or want one. If they are comfortable sleeping in their crib without one, no need to rock the boat!

toddler with pillow and blanket safe sleep reference

After age 2 it is safe to have your toddler sleep on a regular mattress. 

DO – No need to worry if a situation comes up and your child has to sleep on a regular bed, adult mattresses are typically safe for children 2 years and up. You should double-check your particular mattress’s specifications to be sure.

DON’T – Don’t feel like you have to switch your child to a big kid bed or regular mattress at this point. Keeping children in a crib as close to age 3 as possible is recommended and helps your toddler (and you) get the best sleep possible because your child feels secure in their sleep space. 

  • For more tips on the ‘when’ and ‘how’ transitioning to a big kid bed, check this out.

Sleeping safely at any age

This reference guide addresses creating a safe sleep space for your child’s bed but does not touch on all aspects of safe sleep, such as recommendations for caregivers to further keep babies safe and healthy. Please visit the AAP Recommendations for more details and aspects of safe sleep. 

If you are having trouble getting your baby sleeping well in their safe sleep space, reach out today and we can set up a free evaluation call to get you and baby on the path to sleeping well while sleeping safely, for every single sleep.

Cheers to healthy, happy sleep,


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