Safer sleeping

If your baby was born premature or sick and has been discharged find out more about safer sleeping at home.

Coming home is a big change for your baby. Everything is new and different: noises, temperature, smells, colours. They may need lots of cuddles for reassurance. It can take some time for babies to settle into a new environment.

Remember that premature babies have more active sleep than term babies, so although they may be moving around at night, they may well be sleeping better than you think.

If your baby is unsettled, you can try stroking them to reassure them you are there. This will be easier if you have a Moses basket next to your bed. You may also want to try leaving a night light on.

Baby massage is a great way of bringing you closer to your baby, and is also very good for your baby’s health and sense of well-being. Massage has been shown to be especially useful for premature and sick babies. It can help you bond by making your baby feel loved and helping you learn about your baby’s needs. You will also both find it very relaxing.

Allow your baby time to try and settle on his or her own. Many babies cry briefly before going to sleep, and it is better not to pick them up or disturb them if they are trying to settle down. Watch out for what your baby likes to do before falling asleep and you will soon be able to read his or her cues.

For more information on safer sleeping, including a video, see the information provided by The Lullaby Trust

If you need advice or reassurance on safer sleeping, you might also find it helpful to talk to another parent or visit a local support group.

What is the best sleeping position?

You should place your baby on his or her back at the start of sleep time. If you find your baby has rolled over on to his or her tummy or side, place them on their back again.

Eventually, babies learn to roll on to their front and back again. When this happens, you do not need to reposition them.

Babies who have spent time in special care may have become used to being positioned on their front and it can take some time for them to learn to settle and sleep on their back. Most babies will be introduced to back sleeping two weeks before discharge by the team caring for them on the unit.

It is recommended that babies who are reluctant to sleep on their back are not fed or cuddled to sleep before being placed in their cot.

Can my baby sleep with me?

The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot in your room for the first six months. You should not share a bed with your baby if:

  • your baby was born premature, was small at birth or is under three months old
  • you or your partner are smokers (no matter where or when you smoke)
  • you have been drinking alcohol
  • you take medication or drugs that make you feel drowsy
  • you feel overly tired.

The risk of cot death is significantly increased in these cases. Even if you don’t smoke while your baby is in bed with you, he or she is still at greater risk of cot death.

What temperature should the room be?

It is important not to overheat your baby, but remember that if your baby was very small or premature, he or she may find it more difficult to keep warm. A nursery thermometer will help you to monitor the room temperature. Keep the temperature between 18 and 21°C (64–69°F).

Check your baby regularly to ensure that he or she is not too hot or cold. You can do this by feeling the back of his or her neck or tummy. It is normal for a baby’s hands to feel colder than the rest of their body.

To monitor your baby’s temperature, use a digital thermometer and place this under your baby’s armpit. Their temperature should normally be between 36.5 and 37.1°C (97.7– 98.7°F).

If your baby is too hot, take some layers off and check again. If your baby is too cold, put a hat on, add more layers and give your baby a cuddle. If he or she seems unwell, or doesn’t warm up if cold, contact your GP as soon as possible.


It is important to remember that babies who have been in special care can have fragile lungs and fall ill very easily. If your baby comes home to a house where people smoke regularly, his or her health can be quite seriously affected, even if he or she is not in the room where someone is smoking.

Smoking also increases the risk of cot death. For every hour that a baby is in a room where people routinely smoke, the risk of cot death increases by 100 per cent. For example, if a baby is exposed for two to three hours a day, the risk of cot death is doubled. If a baby is exposed for eight hours a day, the risk increases by eight times.

The risk of cot death is also significantly increased for babies who share a bed with a parent who smokes, even if the parent smokes outside.

For more information on cot death, contact The Lullaby Trust if you are in England and Wales, or The Scottish Cot Death Trust in Scotland.

You and others living with you might want to try to stop smoking, for the sake of your own health and that of your baby. For help and advice to stop smoking, contact the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 0224 332 or visit the website.

If you are finding it hard to stop smoking completely, try to only smoke outdoors and when your baby is not with you.

The information on this page is more than two years old