Bringing Baby Home: Baby’s First Sleep Space - Needs, Wants, Can Live Withouts

According to Baby Center, newborns can sleep 16-17 hours a day (67% of their day).  Most babies aren’t physically and developmentally capable of sleeping through the night (defined as sleeping five straight hours) until six months or so.  So, it makes sense that, when preparing to bring baby home, having your sleep ducks all in a row should be a priority.  But where to start? But what do you need to know?  Where should baby sleep?  What sleep gear is the best?  What is necessary, nice, or just a waste of space?  There is so much to consider.  One thing you know for sure though, baby needs a place to sleep.  So let’s start there.

Bedsharing, Co-sleeping, Nursery

A baby’s sleeping situation is without a doubt one of the most controversial topics in parenting.  Whether to bedshare, co-sleep (sleep in the same room), or put baby to bed in the nursery is often a hotly debated topic. 

Bedsharing has been on the rise in the U.S. since 1993, increasing from 6.5% in 1993 to 13.5% in 2010.  While Western culture largely has frowned on the arrangement, co-sleeping is normal in other developing countries.  Proponents of bedsharing say bedsharing is less stressful for baby, increases breastfeeding duration and exclusivity, provides physiological stabilization for baby, makes parents sleep lighter, which ensures they check on baby more often, makes both parent and child sleep longer, and at least one journal claims it may reduce a father’s testosterone levels, which allows fathers to engage in “more sensitive and responsive parenting, which means that bedsharing may make for better fathering.” 

As bedsharing has increased in the U.S. so too has the number of babies dying from accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed – up 184% from 1999 to 2015.  The risk of inadvertent suffocation or crushing while bedsharing is statistically “low” (1 in 16,400), but that is much higher than the risk of same when a child has his or her own sleep space (1 in 46,000).  The risk of a baby dying while bedsharing increases (1 in 150) when certain high risk factors are present: the presence of soft bedding, the baby was born pre-term, baby had a low birth weight, the baby sleeps next to a smoker, the baby sleeps with a person impaired by drugs or alcohol, the baby and adult were sharing a sofa, chair, or pillow when the adult fell asleep, and the baby was sleeping in a prone position.  What does that mean in terms of risk relative to everyday life?  Here is a chart from NPR.org that breaks it down.

 https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/05/21/601289695/is-sleeping-with-your-baby-as-dangerous-as-doctors-say

While some believe in bedsharing and claim it can be done safely, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against bedsharing.   According to the AAP, the best place for baby to sleep is in a safety-certified crib, bassinet, or bedside sleeper (also known as a co-sleeper) in the parents’ own room for the first 6-12 months. This provides similar benefits to bedsharing but with minimized risk.  

Cribs, Bassinets, & Bedside Sleepers

In the event you choose not to bedshare and want to follow AAP recommendations, should you go with a crib, bassinet, or bedside sleeper?  Here is some information that might help you make that choice.  No matter what you choose, the product should meet the latest Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) guidelines. 

Cribs

Cribs can be used from the time a child is newborn to up to 2-3 years old.  They are larger, sturdy pieces of furniture, generally rectangular in shape but also may be round or oval-shaped.  There are different styles, including standard size, mini (smaller), or convertible (meaning they can transform into a mini toddler bed later on). They are one of the pricier items to buy.  However, they are the most regulated of infant sleep spaces and generally deemed the safest option.  The CPSC made crib safety a top priority in 2011, setting strict standards for both manufacturers and retailers. These requirements include stronger mattress supports and crib slats, extremely durable crib hardware and rigorous safety testing.

When selecting a crib, there are several “must-have” features you should look for.  One, safety and compliance with current CPSC standards.  If you are considering using an older, antique or used crib (which the CPSE recommends against), it is important to ensure the slats are the currently CPSC-recommended distance apart and that the rest of the crib’s designs and components comply with current safety standards as well.  You also will need to ensure the older model you are considering has not been recalled.  Basic requirements for a safety compliant crib:

  • The crib bars or slats should be no more than 2 3/8 inches wide.
  • None of the bars should be cracked or missing.
  • The top of the crib rail should be at least 26 inches from the top of the mattress.
  • The corner posts should line up flush with the top of the headboard or more than an additional 16 inches taller.  (Posts in between these heights could catch your little one’s clothes if he or she tries to climb out.)
  • Corner posts should be flush with the end panels (and if there are small corner posts, they shouldn’t be more than 1/16th of an inch high).
  • The hardware — bolts, screws, etc. — should be firmly secured, with no sharp edges or rough areas and no spots that can pinch or otherwise injure your sweet baby.
  • The crib's wood should be free of cracks or splits.
  • The entire crib — sides, slats and all — should be very sturdy with tight joints.
  • Paint should be non-toxic.

Another plus is adjustable mattress height.  Adjustable mattress height allows you to raise the mattress when baby is smallest and lower it as baby grows, making it easier for you to get baby in and out of the crib when he or she is very small, and harder for baby to climb out once they get bigger and stronger.  Adjustable mattress height also made it easier for me to pick up and lay down my baby in those initial days - even though I had had a C-section.  (That said, the first days home, when I felt every single movement in my abdomen, were still a bit rough.)   

You might also want a base made of metal springs, rather than wood slats.  Metal springs will better withstand a jumping toddler.  Other considerations are price point, footprint (size relative to space) and esthetics, of course.  For safety tips concerning cribs, read “Babyproofing Essentials in 2020: How to Make Your Home Safe for Baby.”

We bought our crib from Pottery Barn Kids.  The crib outlasted our son’s three-year stay (yes, he refused to move to his big boy bed for over 8 months), looking as great at the end as it did in the beginning.  Its resale value exceeded several hundred dollars, making it a good investment for other reasons as well.  For a list of other top cribs in 2020, check out this article by BabyList.com.  

Bassinets

Like a crib, a bassinet is a freestanding individual sleeping space.  However, it is smaller than a crib and designed only for newborns and younger babies. Bassinets are typically placed next to your bed to give you easy access to your baby throughout the night, and many are mobile so your baby can nap near you during the day.  They take up less space than cribs and are generally lower than cribs, making them a good choice if your bedroom is small or if you had a C-section.  However, they should not be used once a baby can push up on their hands or roll over or exceeds the weight limit, usually around 20 pounds.  Thus, you will need to transition to a crib around 3-4 months old – several months before the earliest date a baby should be moved to his or her own room if you follow the AAP recommendations.

When shopping for a bassinet, you will want to make sure it includes a firm sleep surface and a tight-fitting sheet.  To minimize the risk of inadvertent suffocation, you will also want to make sure the sides are not padded or covered.  Additionally, the CPSC advises that parents shopping for a bassinet should look for models which meet the following criteria:

  • The bassinet should include a sturdy bottom with a wide base.
  • All bassinet surfaces should be smooth.
  • There should be no hardware sticking out on the bassinet.
  • Bassinet mattresses must be firm and must fit tightly within the unit.
  • There must be a locking mechanism if the bassinet can rock.

For more information on bassinet selection, read this article on Mommyhood101.com.  For safety information concerning bassinets, check out this article on consumerreports.com.

Bedside Sleepers

Bedside sleepers (also known as co-sleepers) are essentially bassinets designed and manufactured to be attached to the side of an adult bed.  They allow babies to sleep close to an adult without actually being in the same bed. The product is usually made of a rigid frame that may be combined with fabric or mesh.  Usually, one wall of the bedside sleeper is lower than the others, which allows the parent to easily reach for the child at night.  Bedside sleepers are required to meet the same safety standards as bassinets in order to be sold in the United States. They can be particularly useful for moms who had C-sections or cannot reach and lift from above easily.  If the baby is breastfed, they also make nighttime feedings easier as the baby is literally right next to you.

Like a bassinet, a bedside sleeper is only for newborns and younger babies less than 5 months old.  They should be retired once a baby can push up on her hands and knees or exceeds the weight limit. 

Bedside sleepers can pose various risks to babies of all shapes and sizes. The main issue is the risk that a baby might fall into a gap between the bedside sleeper and the adult bed mattress, which could cause entrapment injuries and/or strangulation. Similarly, there is a risk that blankets and loose objects from the adult bed can fall or drape into the bedside sleeper while everyone is sleeping, creating a suffocation hazard.

If you elect to go with a bedside sleeper, follow the specific instructions in your sleeper’s manual.  You should also always keep these general safety guidelines in mind:

  • Always be sure the sleeper is securely and correctly attached to the adult bed per the manufacturer’s directions.
  • There should never be more than a half-inch gap between the sleeper and the bed. Check this gap each time before use to be sure the sleeper is securely attached to the adult bed. If the gap exceeds a half inch, don’t use the sleeper.  Never try to fill it with a blanket or other loose objects.
  • Never allow bedding from the adult bed to extend into the bedside sleeper.

For a list of top bedside sleepers in 2020, click here.

Needs v. Wants v. Can Live Withouts

Needs

1.  A crib is a definite need. As any child will ultimately transfer to a crib, it makes sense to start there rather than buy a bassinet or bedside sleeper that will only be used for a few months. It is the most economical choice, should budget factor into a decision.  Second, transitions and establishing sleep habits can be hard for baby.  Starting the child off in the same sleep space he or she will sleep in down the road may make sleep training easier.   Cribs are also allegedly safer than any other sleep space and the most regulated.   

2. A properly fitting, firm crib mattress (or bassinet or bedside sleeper mattress). Baby’s first mattress should be firm and fit snugly within the chosen sleep space. The CPSC cautions that there should not be gaps larger than two fingers between the sides of the crib and the mattress.  Often whoever sells you the crib also sells mattresses that fit that crib model properly. 

3.  One or two (1-2) waterproof mattress protectors. One is necessary, but having two is nice. For a list of top crib mattress protectors, read this article on Babylist.com.  

4.  Two to four (2-4) fitted crib sheets (or bassinet or bedside sleeper sheets). Yes, only the fitted bottom sheets. No top sheets necessary.  Babies can go through sheets like they do their clothes.  Consequently, having at least two sheets makes life much easier.  We personally loved the chamois crib sheets by Pottery Barn Kids as well as their cotton sheets.  All wore well and looked just as good two years in as the day we bought them.

Pro-tip:  Place a mattress protector on the mattress, then a fitted sheet, then another protector, then another fitted sheet, creating two complete layers.  That way, if baby’s diaper leaks or if baby spits up or has a blow-out in the middle of the night, you can simply strip off the soiled set to have fresh sheets waiting.  That helps you get back to sleep sooner.  Always a win!

5.  Baby video monitor.  Need or want?  Baby monitors are tough to categorize this way.  Whether it is a need or a want will depend on the size of your living space, whether you want to be able to keep tabs on baby and hear his or her cries from a distance (i.e., a different floor or even in your yard), and budget.  For us, the video baby monitor was much used, much appreciated, and provided the assurances I needed to feel at peace when I wasn’t close by my little guy, so I will call it a need.

Baby video monitors are equipped with different features and functions and come at different price points. While you may not find one that checks every item on your wish list, there are some features you will want your monitor to have:

  • Two-way audio
  • A secure connection (whether that be over WiFi or a remote signal)
  • High-resolution camera
  • High-resolution monitor screen (if purchasing a handheld model as opposed to a smartphone-based monitor)
  • Option to add more cameras
  • Night vision
  • Camera pan and tilt abilities
  • Alerts for when baby wakes up or makes noise
  • Easy use or installation features (like a clip or simple wall mount)
  • Temperature display

For more information on baby monitors, including a list of top monitors in 2020, check out this article by WhattoExpect.com.

6.  Four or more sets of pajamas. Babies can go through multiple pairs in just one night.  When it comes to newborn pajamas, what you choose is often a matter of price point, materials and style preferences.  However, there are a few additional aspects to consider.  First, newborns will have part of their umbilical cords for the first couple weeks.  You want to have pajamas or sleeping gowns that don’t rub or pull at the area and can protect the baby from infection. 

Pajamas should allow easy late-night diaper changes.  You don’t want to have to fully undress the baby to change his or her diapers.  It can jar the baby to a more wakeful state and it takes longer, making it harder for you both to get the sleep you need. 

Additionally, the pajamas you select should depend on a variety of factors:  room temperature (note: your nursery or baby's sleeping area should be kept at approximately 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit), whether your baby is ill, and whether your baby sleeps hot or cold.  It is important to avoid overheating, which is a risk factor for Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS).  However, you also do not want your baby to become too cold in the night.

Another consideration is durability.  Yes, babies grow out of their pajamas quickly.  However, they can also wreak havoc on their clothing, including their pajamas.  You will want pajamas (and clothing) that will survive multiple washings and repel potential stains.  And if you buy good enough quality so that they can do these things, you can often reuse them with babies # 2-? or sell them when no longer needed.

Pro Tip:  Rather than buying many items in newborn size, buy your baby’s clothing in the 0-3month size.  Unless your child was born prematurely or very small, the newborn size lasts for only a brief period of time – if it fits at all.  My son was born one-tenth of an ounce short of 9 pounds and nearly 22 inches long.  None of the newborn outfits we bought or received as gifts fit him even on day one.  

Another Pro Tip: Babies soil their bedding, clothing, burp cloths, swaddles, sleep sacks, and other items frequently, creating not-so-baby-sized mountains of laundry.  However, because new parents are often sleep-deprived, unless they have help, doing laundry can seem an aspiration rather than an able-to-get-to.  For that reason, you will want to have enough of each to see you through a few days.

7.  Four or more swaddles.  Swaddles are a way to help newborns feel safe and secure, to provide sun protection on walks, and to provide warmth at night.   The AAP suggests they be used until a baby starts trying to turn over – usually around the time baby is two to three months old.   For swaddles, we love Aden & Anais and Milkbarn.  Both make quality swaddles that last with uber soft materials and fun designs.  For tips on using a swaddle, including a “how to” video, check out “Babies and Swaddles and Sleep Sacks – Oh My!

8.  Two or more sleep sacks. Once a baby starts trying to roll over (usually around 2-3 months), it’s time to transition to sleep sacks.  Sleep sacks are far safer than blankets, which pose a suffocation hazard for young babies.  Our favorite?   Bumbershoots by Nana’s, of course!  But I am saying this not as a Bumbershoots by Nana blogger, but as a mother who used these sleep sacks for two years.  Nana’s sleep sacks changed our life.  My son slept better in them.  They survived multiple washings and dryings and remained gorgeous.  They felt comfortable and cozy and, above all, safe.  For a list of Bumbershoots by Nana’s research-based design and construction features, click here.  For the Bumbershoots by Nana story, click here.

Wants

1.  Due to their conveniences – especially if you have a C-section or are breastfeeding– a bassinet or bedside sleeper is nice to have if you have the budget for it.

2.  Because most toddler beds are only used a year or two, a convertible crib  is nice, but not necessary.

3.  Black-out curtains or blinds. Part of sleep training is teaching your child that darkness signals sleep time.  Newborns really can sleep anywhere, but once you start sleep training – usually when baby is around 3 months old and after you start recognizing baby’s emerging sleep patterns, black out shades or curtains are worth every penny!  For more information on sleep training and how to help baby transition to standard sleep cycles, check out “The Circadian What?!” and “Make Sleep A Habit.”  For information about window, curtain, and blind safety, read “Babyproofing Essentials in 2020: How to Make Your Home Safe for Baby.”

4.  Matching quilt or a crib skirt. They create a polished, Insta-worthy space, but they're only decorative.

5.  Mobile.  Mobiles are not just decorative.  They can be good for baby's development.  “In the first few months of life, babies are attracted to bold and contrasting colors, which make mobiles ideal for their visual development,” says Steph Lee, M.D., a community pediatrician, preventive medicine specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.  That said, they are not imperative.  For more information on mobiles, including safety information and best mobile recommendations in 2020, click here.

6.  Portable Crib.  Most new parents won't travel with baby straight off the bat.  Further, hotels often have cribs you can request and there is also always the option of renting one from an agency in the town of your destination.  Consequently, a portable crib may be more of a want or need down the road than an immediate need.  However, unless you are positive that you will have a clean and safe sleeping option for baby when traveling, you will want to bring your own.

Portable cribs often serve multiple functions – sleeping, contained play, changing tables, entertainment – and they are easily broken down for transport.  Which you choose (and what they feature) will depend on your needs, usage, and price point.  We went with a bells and whistles option but only used it for naptimes and bed.  Consequently, the extras we paid for were wasted. 

What components are necessary?  With a portable crib, you want to make sure it meets all current safety standards, has not been recalled, and has a strong transport bag, fine mesh netting sides, a collapsing mechanism that is babyproof (but not grown-up proof), and a properly fitting, removable mattress.  Use the same rule of thumb re standard crib mattresses to assess whether the portable crib mattress properly fits.  If you want to use a sheet with your portable crib, make sure the manufacturer you choose also manufactures sheets to properly fit that mattress.  Ill-fitting sheets pose a smothering hazard.  For a list of top portable cribs in 2020, click here.

Can Live Withouts

1.  Used, cracked, modified, or recalled cribs.

2.  Nightlights or white noise/music makers. While every child is different, we found we never used or needed ours.  As we started off with a dark room and no noise, our little fella did not need them to fall asleep as an infant. 

3.  Loose items for the crib, bassinet, or bedside sleeper. The AAP recommends against having any soft objects, loose bedding, or any objects that could increase the risk of suffocation, entrapment or strangulation in any area baby sleeps.   This includes sleep place blankets, quilts, stuffed animals, bumper pads, and any other loose item for the sleep space.   Between the ages of one and two years old, you can start to safely introduce additional items, however.  And of course buddies and blankets can come in handy for baby’s waking hours.

Best of luck to you in your decision-making, registering, and shopping.  And of course, congratulations!!!!

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