Baby Sleeping In Laundry Basket? Safe Or Risk For SIDS?

Laundry baskets are a cheaper alternative to bassinets and cribs for newborns and young infants. Certain guidelines must be followed to make sure that these baskets are safe for your child. If these recommendations are not followed, your child may be at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

In 1930s Finland, nearly all mothers head home with their newborn, armed with a large box full of baby supplies from the government. Bath towels, body suits, socks, and mittens… even the cardboard box holding all these goodies doubles as the infant’s first bed. Until now, this maternity package is still given to all expectant Finnish mothers.

Today, in modern times, is it still acceptable to place your newborn baby inside a large box — or even a laundry basket — instead of a bassinet or crib? Let’s discuss which features are essential for your baby’s first bed.

Safe Sleep recommendations

An infant baby is sleeping safely on a mattress in her crib.

Safe Sleep recommendations are so important that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) all support these guidelines.

For infant beds, some of the recommendations are:

  • Use a firm surface for the bed.
  • Remove all other objects on the bed.
  • Place your baby on the bed when you are about to sleep or when you start to feel sleepy.
  • Do not let your baby fall asleep close to nursing pillows or lounging pads.

Why is this so important? Shouldn’t we just make sure our children are comfortable in bed?

While we would all definitely want our children to feel warm and cozy, we have to make sure they are, first and foremost, safe. Studies show that poor infant bed choices make them more prone to sudden infant death syndrome.

Around 3,500 newborns and young infants in the United States die each year simply because of sleep-related causes.

What is SIDS?

An infant boy is laying in his crib, looking around the room.

Sudden infant death syndrome is the “sudden, unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year of age that doesn’t have a known cause even after a complete investigation”.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Once SIDS is suspected in an infant, medical professionals aim to find out a cause by asking caregivers some questions, doing a physical examination on the baby and requesting for laboratory tests.

A baby is determined to have SIDS if the cause is still unknown despite all these efforts.

Does this mean that bassinets and cribs are the only option to keep them out of harm’s way? Not necessarily. Some alternatives for infant beds may still be used, as long as they follow the proper guidelines for safe sleeping.

How to make a laundry basket safe

These tips should help keep your laundry basket safe for your infant’s sleep:

Use a basket with the correct size

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advises that bassinets should have side heights of at least 7.5 inches. Make sure your baby has a few inches of free space around them.

Use a mattress that fits correctly and tightly at the bottom of the basket — an inch of space can pose a breathing hazard should your baby unexpectedly move. A mattress that is too big will bunch up at the sides and can cause similar problems.

Use flat beddings

A newborn baby boy is sleeping in his crib, on a firm mattress.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that newborns and young infants should be put to sleep in beds with firm — not soft — bedding. It feels counterintuitive because we obviously want our babies to feel as comfortable as possible (for the few hours that they actually fall asleep straight), but soft pillows and fluffy or loose linens should NOT be used to cover the mattress.

The mattress should be flat and should not cave into your baby’s shape when placed in the basket. The sleep surface may be inclined, but only by 10 degrees or less from the horizontal plane.

Place nothing else on the bed/basket

Yes, unfortunately, not even those cute pillows and stuffed toys are allowed in there. The bed has to be completely empty. Just to clarify, make sure that no other laundry items or clothing are under or on top of the mattress.

Place it on the floor

Your laundry basket will most likely not have a base or a stand. Because of this, the basket is actually safest on the floor.

Placing it on a table or other elevated surfaces can be dangerous as your child may fall by accident. Some mothers opt to place their makeshift bassinet directly beside their bed.

Make sure nothing climbs in

The only concern you may have when placing your basket on the floor is if you own pets or have toddlers around. Place them in another room and keep any barriers in place, including closed doors. On the other hand, make sure not to cover the laundry basket with cloth or a plastic cover.

Make sure the basket is sturdy enough

The laundry basket should be made of good quality materials. The sides shouldn’t be flimsy and should be strong enough to hold your child without tipping over, should the basket be accidentally nudged the wrong way. If the basket is flimsy or easily tilted, it might not be as safe for your child.

Make sure it’s clean!

Because we’re very focused on basket sizes and beddings, there’s one important thing you shouldn’t forget: make sure the basket is clean! If compatible with the material, rinse it with soap and water before use. Make sure to have the basket thoroughly dried before placing the mattress and tight beddings.

FAQs

Until when should I use a bassinet or laundry basket for my child?

Bassinets are safe only until babies start to roll over. Once this happens, you will need to use a crib.

I don’t have a good laundry basket, but I don’t want to buy a bassinet or a crib yet. What are other alternatives?

Historically, some babies have been placed in chest drawers, washtubs, or even cartons! As long as it has a flat, sturdy and firm surface and other requirements are followed, it can be an acceptable replacement for a bassinet.

My baby fell asleep in my bed, in the car seat or the couch, should I let them finish their nap first? I don’t want to wake them up.

Unfortunately, your child should still be moved to a firm, sleeping surface. It may be frustrating to wake them up (or hear them cry again), but car seats and couches do not have a flat, stable surface. Babies are prone to SIDS if left to sleep in these areas.

My toddler keeps on falling asleep in my laundry basket. Is this safe?

Toddlers are able to move to a comfortable position and climb around on their own. Brief, afternoon naps in a laundry basket may be allowed, as long as they are supervised. However, it’s still best to move them to a crib or a toddler bed when they fall asleep.

Conclusion

It’s important to keep your baby safe, even when they sleep. The AAP has established certain guidelines to reduce the chances of SIDS in your infant.

You can use alternatives, such as laundry baskets and even chest drawers, as long as these recommendations are followed. When in doubt, it’s always best to seek advice from your friendly pediatrician.

Sarah is a healthcare writer, motivated by her love of reading books while growing up. She took up human biology and further studies in medicine, in order to fulfill her passion for helping kids. While she isn't a biological mother yet, she has taken two young dogs, named Indy and Obi-Wan, under her wing. She would love to someday travel the world and meet kids from different cultural backgrounds.

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