One of the main jobs you’ll be doing as a parent is keeping your baby alive.
It’s a simple statement, but one that feels seriously heavy on the responsibility scale!
Ultimately most of what you do with your baby comes down to common sense. Keep them warm, fed and loved, then you can’t go too far wrong.
However certain key pieces of safety advice have changed or emerged over the years as experts have learned more about the best ways to care for babies.
Much of the new advice around now is based on statistics related to baby injuries or tragic deaths. We know more now, and so the advice that is current is definitely the advice you want to follow.
Outdated advice may still be flying around you in the first year with your baby, especially if you have older relatives and friends.
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You’ll probably get your Great Aunt Mable telling you that whisky in the bottle was fine in her day.
It’s likely your own common sense will kick in and tell you when to ignore such statements. The best way to deal with them initially is to nod, smile and never leave your child unattended with people who fancy alcohol as the solution to colic.
To help you along your way, here are some key pieces of safety advice that you need to know when it comes to caring for your newborn baby.
Back to sleep
Studies of infant deaths have shown that babies who slept on their tummy were more likely to suffer cot death than those put to sleep on their backs.
The reason for this is not clear, however what is known is that since the “Back to Sleep” campaign launched in the 1990s the number of sudden infant deaths reduced by more than half.
With newborns, put them on their back, with their feet close to the bottom of the bed, rather than their head. This is to prevent them wriggling underneath blankets or covers.
When your baby reaches around three to four months they may start rolling over to sleep on their front. This is normal.
If you see your baby has done this before nodding off, pop them back on their back before you go to bed. But don’t spend all night checking on them and flipping them over.
Chances are if your baby can roll onto their front, they can roll back onto their back and this is key. Try not to panic about this turn of events. All us parents go through it.
Your baby should sleep with you in your room for the first six months, which is another factor that has helped to reduce cot death.
There are lots more tips on reducing the risk of cot death here.
Buy safety-approved products
Check that the products you buy for your baby conform to your country’s safety standards.
There will be particular numbers and symbols used to represent your nation’s own safety body, for example the BSE number in Britain.
In order to be sure that cots, clothes, bedding and travel items that you buy are safe for your baby, try to buy from brands that you recognise.
It is especially important to buy car seats and cots that have come from a reputable maker, as these will have undergone rigorous testing to ensure they can cope with a variety of scenarios.
If you are ever unsure, Google the product to check reviews and safety standards. Seek advice from charities such as the National Childbirth Trust or The Lullaby Trust if ever in any doubt.
Bin the cot bumpers
Cot bumpers are designed to make the cot look pretty and stop your baby bashing their head on the bars of the crib.
The problem with them is they can come loose or your baby can become tangled in them.
As a mother who has had two kids and has often heard the telltale bang of their child crashing into the side of the cot, trust me when I say they don’t even wake up when it happens.
Cot bed bumpers are a risk not worth taking. Don’t buy them, save yourself the money!
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No loose toys in the cot
Do not fill your baby’s cot with soft toys. You can offer them a comforter, which should be made from breathable material that conforms to safety standards and is marked as suitable for newborn babies.
Anything loose in the cot is deemed to be a risk to safe sleeping so keep the cot as clear as possible.
The same goes for loose pieces of bedding. Make sure any blankets are tucked down beneath your baby’s armpits so that they cannot cover their face and interfere with their breathing in any way.
In order to avoid this issue altogether, baby sleeping bags are the best way forward as your baby cannot cover their face with these. More on this in the next section!
Watch out for falls
Your baby will go from just lying on their back where you left them to rolling over very suddenly! It will just happen one day.
For that reason, never leave your baby unattended on a sofa, bed or changing table. They will just move that one time you left them.
If you do want to put your baby down, place them on the floor in a safe environment, put them in a bouncy chair with the safety straps on or pop them into their cot.
Follow room temperature guides
The ideal room temperature for your baby is between 16C and 20C.
While your instinct may be to really panic about your baby getting cold in the winter, one of the biggest risks for sudden infant death syndrome is actually them overheating.
The key to keeping your baby at a steady temperature is light layers. This way it’s easy to peel layers off if they start to overheat.
For me the absolute best solution to the panic about the right temperature was getting a baby sleeping bag. These come with recommended clothing layers depending on the tog rating of the sleeping bag and temperature of the room. This takes the decision making process out of it for you.
The only issue you then may have is when the temperature is fairly mild at the start of the evening but is set to plummet overnight.
In this case dress your baby for the temperature it will reach later in the night. If you’re really worried, you can add an extra blanket on top of them before you go to sleep.
This chart will give you an idea of how to dress your baby depending on your sleeping bag you are using.
Rear-facing car seats are best
Studies have shown that the longer your baby is rearward facing when travelling in the car, the better for their safety.
By law in the UK, all children should travel facing the back of the car for the first 15 months. Ideally they will travel facing the rear of the car for longer than this.
It’s recommended that your baby travels in the car seat for just two hours at a time.
After this get them out and give them a chance to kick their legs about on a flat surface for a while. This is all to do with your baby’s developing spine which is much better on flat surfaces.
There are also studies that suggest being in a car seat, or a baby bouncer seat, for too long can constrict your baby’s breathing.
For this reason, you’re recommended to not use either of these things for baby’s naps or sleeping regularly for long periods of time. It’s fine for your baby to sleep in their car seat while your travelling for around two hours a time, it’s just best not to use these items as a regular nap location.
If your baby does nod off in their car seat, just keep an eye on them to sure their breathing remains steady.
Ditch thick coats in the car
If your baby is wearing a thick coat or pram suit before you strap them up then you won’t be able to tighten the belt enough to protect baby if there is a crash.
Always remove coats, as this will enable you to fit the straps tight to the baby’s body.
If you’re worried about your baby being cold in the car, then drape a blanket over their lap to keep them cosy once you’ve strapped them in.
Support baby’s head
Newborns cannot support their own head, so make sure you support their head well while holding them.
It’s also important not to shake your baby when holding them as you can damage their neck.
Learn baby CPR
Your local first aid charity branch may run free or very cheap courses in infant first aid. It’s well worth checking this out, as most courses only last a few hours but equip you with life-saving knowledge.
Alternatively you can download an app from an organisation such as St John Ambulance or British Red Cross. These give you video or step by step instructions in what to do in situations such as choking, burns and how to perform CPR.
Be aware of your pets
Try not to leave your pet unattended with your baby.
When I had our first baby, I was worried our cat would nod off on her chest and suffocate her. I actually spent ages Googling this to see if it would happen!
My conclusion was there was possibly one documented case, but no other evidence to support this actually happens! Anyway, my conclusion was to keep an eye on the cat and not let them sleep in the same room.
Luckily the cat has always disliked the kids so I doubt he would ever fall asleep on them.
When it comes to dogs, make sure they are kept away from your baby unless you are in the room. The gentlest of pets can lash out when they are poked in the face.
I hope this has given you some safety tips to be aware of when caring for your newborn baby.
Remember, this is not intended to scare you, and you will see that most of these tips are really just good common sense!