It has been a few months since your baby was born and you haven’t been out in ages.  You and your partner are ready to try a night out to reconnect and celebrate your special anniversary.  You can’t wait.  Your thoughts are with where will you make a booking and will you fit into your favourite dress?  Perhaps take a moment to think about who will be minding your precious baby while you are out.

Many of us are lucky enough to call on Grandma, neighbour or local uni student to keep burglars out and take action if a fire breaks out.  Many of us just expect that the carers of our babies are up to date with current safe sleep guidelines and all will be well upon our return.  Many parents don’t realise that their trusted carers are not as up to date with current practice as parents are and this needs to change.

Dr Rachel Moon of the University of Virginia Medical School, did a study that involved 10,000 infant deaths and her study revealed unsafe sleep practices from babysitter and relatives, therefore putting babies more at risk of Sudden Unexpected Death of an Infant (SUDI) / Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  The findings were that there were more incidence of babies being put in unsafe sleep positions and unsafe sleep locations than if a parent were caring for the baby.

The statistics of babies being put in a safe sleep space while parents were absent were

  • 72.5% Licensed Care Providers
  • 49.1% Babysitters
  • 29.4% Relatives
  • 27.1% Friends

For babies being put on their back while parents were absent

  • 54.1% Licensed Care Providers
  • 38.6% Friends
  • 38.4% Relatives
  • 37.8% Babysitters

The overwhelming outcome advice from this study was to educate the people looking after your baby. While people caring for your baby have good intentions and we are grateful that they can assist us, it is so important that we have the discussions not only with the carers themselves but in the community about safe sleep guidelines for babies and other areas that may present dangers to babies.

Many years ago babies were to put to sleep face down on their tummies as a regular settling practice. For many grandparents now taking care of their grandchildren, this was the last memory they had of putting babies to sleep.  They are not always aware that with extensive SIDS research, that this has been found to a dangerous practice and that suggestions are  to always put young babies to sleep in a cot and on their backs.  When we bring this topic up with carers of our babies, we may be faced with a challenge.  A grandmother was heard in her response to her daughter-in-law ” I put all my kids to sleep on their tummies and they all turned out alright.”  While it takes a brave mother to take on her mother-in-law or anyone else challenging what she knows is important for her baby’s health, it is with upmost importance that she does.  Arranging a time before you are due to go out to discuss how your baby goes to sleep and why it is important might be a help.  Going onto will have safe sleep brochures that can be downloaded to prompt the discussion on baby sleep safety in your home.  Asking your carers to come and observe you putting your baby to sleep or have a trial of settling your baby while you are there to support and guide them is another good option.

I recently spoke to a Toxicologist (a medical doctor that is an expert in poisons and poisoning) about her work.  When I asked her what the most common issue is that she gets calls from hospitals about, I expected her to say illicit drug overdoes, such as methamphetamines etc.  I was very shocked by her reply.  She told me that overdosing of young children ingesting medicines found in their environment took up a lot of her time.  She went on to tell me that elderly carers of babies such as grandparents or elderly relatives didn’t think to child proof their homes if the child is staying at their place, or were complacent with their medications when staying in the child’s home.   Advising babysitters not to medicate your child in your absence without your permission is another big one.  With unsettled babies, carers were also likely to dispense paracetomol or nurofen and quite possibly miscalculate the correct dose to the baby.

I have also found that babysitters can miscalculate the amount of formula to be made up for a baby.  They can’t read the tin if they have forgotten their glasses or are flustered.  Some are of the opinion that an extra scoop of formula won’t do any harm and will help the baby sleep longer.  If you are using formula, putting the formula powder in pre-measured containers and cooled boiled water already measured is a safe way to leave milk like this for carers.    Putting brandy or honey in bottles or on dummies are no longer suggested remedies to help babies sleep.  Simply having a conversation with your chosen carer about what strategies they may draw on if the baby is not settling well is a non-threatening way to plan for how best to care for your baby when you can’t be there.

While licensed carers did the best on the study statistics, they still didn’t achieve 100% for always putting a baby to sleep in a cot or on their back.   Checking with every single person that is going to care for your baby in your absence is important.  Without criticism or blame, it is clear that new parents need to address the safety of their child and expectations of care in their absence. Communication is key for the best outcome for the infant in question and this is often a good place to start with these discussions.



Elena Lagon, Rachel Y. Moon, Jeffrey D. Colvin. Characteristics of Infant Deaths during Sleep While Under Nonparental SupervisionThe Journal of Pediatrics, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.01.051