Baby Sleep Positioners – information and an attempt at some reassurance…

As a result of the withdrawal of a number of sleep positioners, there are now a lot of confused and worried parents wondering what to continue to use with their babies. The information released isn’t very clear and the reports I have read have been very scaremongering and not very helpful.

I’ve pulled together as much information as I can from a range of sources to hopefully give you some guidance and some peace of mind…

The FDA in America (supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics) has issued a warning about the use of sleep positioners, which it states are raised supports, pillows and wedges, due to the deaths of 12 babies. According to the FDA, “The most common types of sleep positioners feature bolsters attached to each side of a thin mat and wedges to elevate the baby’s head. The sleep positioners are intended to keep a baby in a desired position while sleeping. They are often used with infants under 6 months old.”

Over a period of 13 years, there were 12 reports of babies known to have died from suffocation associated with their sleep positioners. Most of the babies suffocated after rolling from the side to the stomach. In addition to these deaths, the Consumer Product Safety Commission in America has received reports of babies who were placed on their back or side in the positioners only to be found later in hazardous positions within or next to the product. (National Center for Health Research)


So what does this mean for you?

My initial reaction to this is that we need to apply some common sense to this. The death of 12 babies is a tragedy but we don’t have all the details. As parents we all want our babies to be safe especially when they are asleep so that nothing can cause suffocation – no pillows, wedges, cuddly toys, cot bumpers, duvets or heavy, fluffy blankets. It can be assumed that babies can’t roll over until they are a few months old but I have seen babies as young as a few weeks old be able to awkwardly flip onto their side or their stomach – and without good head control, this is a hazard.

A lot of the mums I see use a Sleepyhead – this is the Sleepyhead response: “Our product is a multi-functional baby and child product. Our product is not a sleep positioner. Our product also passes the British Standard for air flow through infant pillows, BS 4578, that was published in 1970 and confirmed in 2013. We understand sleep positioners are intended to keep babies in a specific position while sleeping, such as through the use of straps or wedges that conform to the baby and keep the baby in a set position. Unlike a sleep positioner, a baby can move about in our product.”

The Lullaby Trust doesn’t recommend the use of the sleepyhead because its padded sides means it doesn’t meet their safe sleep guidelines however the Trust also acknowledges that there is no evidence to say they are unsafe to use. The Sleepyhead guide lines states that it must be used on a flat, firm and stable surface; that it shouldn’t be elevated; it should be free of toys; babies should be placed on their back for rest and sleep. However, it also contains the slightly confusing wording: “supervised environment” which is open to interpretation.

So I guess my thoughts are – observe your baby in their sleep environment, be aware of how they move so they can’t press their face against anything if they move, turn or roll. If you are unsure, change the sleep environment.


Here’s a reminder of safe sleep guidelines…

  • put your baby on his back for sleep and rest
  • place him at the bottom of the cot/moses basket
  • the mattress needs to be firm, flat, clean and waterproof
  • make sure sheets and blankets are tucked in securely
  • have your baby in the same room as you for 6 months
  • never fall sleep with your baby on the sofa or in a chair
  • ideally the room needs to be between 16-20 degrees
  • stop smoking and if you do smoke or use e-cigarettes don’t do it near your baby, keep their space smoke-free and don’t sleep near your baby
  • use a sleep space that is firm and without pillows, duvets, soft toys, loose bedding and cot bumpers


A word about co-sleeping…

A lot of baby sleep products have grown in popularity because we are scared of co-sleeping. I work with mums of young babies and co-sleeping is very real and very essential for some families in order to get some sleep. In my experience, it is rarely a choice but it is done out of necessity to comfort their babies and to get some sleep. While 3-sided cots can help a lot with this, some babies just need more contact to feel safe and to sleep better.




The co-sleeping guidelines are similar to the other safe sleep guidance…

  • a firm, flat, clean mattress
  • no duvet or pillows
  • not on the sofa or a chair – a lot of parents think this is a safer option than being in bed with their baby but it is not as secure as the flat, even surface of a mattress
  • ideally the room needs to be between 16-20 degrees
  • stop smoking and if you do smoke or use e-cigarettes don’t do it near your baby, keep their space smoke-free and don’t sleep near your baby
  • be sober, be free of drowsy medication
  • be aware of the sleep environment so you know where your baby is, where your bedding is and where any pillows are
  • if you are also sharing the bed with your partner, make sure they know the baby is in your bed and that they haven’t been smoking, drinking or taking medication which could make them drowsy
  • you may feel that it is safer if it is just you and your baby in the bed, so you can be in control of the sleeping space
  • think about what bedding you use and how you use it – some parents switch from using a duvet to sheets and blankets to be comfortable and safe

My slight rant is that we need to be having more open and honest discussions about co-sleeping – it has been treated as a taboo subject for years either because parents feel like it means they are not parenting ‘correctly’ or because they feel like it is prohibited and therefore they are doing something wrong. Not every parent wants or needs to co-sleep but, according to the Infant Sleep Information Service: “On any given night a fifth of all UK babies spend at least part of the night sleeping with one or both of their parents.” it needs to be addressed in a more practical and realistic way. There is no conclusive evidence about the dangers of bed-sharing – studies in 2013 & 2014 seem to contradict each other – and the above guidance will help to lower those risks.

And the reality is that many babies are not capable of sleeping away from their parents so safe sleeping, including co-sleeping, needs to be discussed a lot more.


More about SIDS…

Taken from the Infant Sleep Information Service website: “Recent research has developed a potential model of three types of factors that may put a baby at a higher risk of SIDS.

The first factor describes vulnerabilities that the baby is born with, like a premature birth or prenatal exposure to harmful chemicals (for example cigarette smoke or drugs).

The second factor is the stage of development the baby is in. The average age for the critical developmental period for infants appears to be 2 – 4 months of age, the age when most SIDS deaths occur.

The third factor is outside factors, like a parent smoking, tummy sleeping, restricted breathing or a covered face when sleeping (because of a blanket, or because the baby’s head got stuck somewhere on the bed), and overheating (for example too much bedding in winter). Research has also found that 75% of day-time SIDS occur when the baby is sleeping in a room without their mother/caregiver present…The triple-risk model (or triple risk hypothesis) is the best current consensus explanation for SIDS encompassing the three key factors.”


I am a parent and I know how terrifying and confusing this can be but please try not to worry – be sensible, keep the sleep space basic and uncluttered, do what feels right and know more about what is going to lower the risks and to keep your baby safe – read, ask questions and make changes to your baby’s sleep space.

Thankfully the risk of SIDS is low: 214 babies a year – every loss is a tragedy but the risk of it happening has reduced by 81% since the safe sleep guidelines were introduced in 1991.

There is more information on safe sleeping at:

The Lullaby Trust


The Infant Sleep Information Service

About Janine 659 Articles
As an experienced and qualified practitioner, I specialise in pregnancy, birth and parent support - my aim is to listen, inform, support and reassure when needed. I have worked with parents since 2002 and I set up Birth, Baby & Family in 2011 to provide good information, different voices and links to the best products and services for families.