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Helping babies and toddlers sleep safely


When you sleep well, you feel better, and so does your child. Family, friends, and the internet may give advice on helping your baby or toddler sleep, but this advice is sometimes wrong. Some of it is even dangerous for your child.

This article gives you tips on safe sleeping based on what St. Jude doctors and nurses know from research. This includes studies of how babies and toddlers sleep, breathe, and grow. We are here to answer your questions and help you and your child sleep as well as possible.

Tips for safe sleeping

  • Doing some simple things can help your baby or toddler sleep safely. Check that you are doing the things below for your child. Use a crib until your child is at least 3 feet tall and can pull themselves up to standing – A crib is important because:
    • The mattress is firmer than an adult mattress. Your child’s mouth and nose can sink into an adult mattress. They could stop breathing (suffocate) if this happens.
    • A crib has rails – Your child is less likely to fall out of bed. Even small babies can roll and fall out.
  • Take toys, pillows, and blankets out of the crib when you put your child in. Your child’s mouth and nose could sink into these, and your child could suffocate.
  • Always keep your baby’s face uncovered during sleep – Avoid putting a blanket where it could slip over their face.
  • If you do use a blanket, put your child’s feet at the foot of the crib. Tuck a thin blanket around the crib mattress. The blanket should only come up to your child’s chest.
  • Ask the nurse or doctor what your child should wear in bed. Clothing can keep your child warm, instead of blankets.

Can my child sleep with me?

Having your baby or toddler sleep with you is not safe. At St. Jude, we know that some parenting advice says to sleep with your child, or “co-sleep.” But research shows this is not a good idea for the following reasons.

  • Your child gets better sleep and rest if they sleep alone.
  • Your child could get stuck under adult bed covers – Or a soft adult mattress can cover their mouth and nose. Research shows sleeping in bed with adults raises the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). This is when a baby dies in its sleep with no clear cause.

Extra safety when in the hospital

Sleeping in their own crib or bed is especially important when your child is in the hospital. Being in a crib or bed helps protect against infection. You or another caregiver might carry germs on your skin or clothes, even if you are careful. Sleeping with your child could give them these germs.

Your child’s nurse or doctor needs to reach your child quickly in an emergency. Sleeping in their own crib or bed means we know where they are at all times, and can get to them quickly.

Please have your older child sleep in their own hospital bed, too. It is important to prevent infections and let us get to them quickly if needed.

Choosing a bed for your child

Your child needs a crib if:

  • They are 24 months old, or less.
  • They are under 3 feet tall.
  • They do not pull themselves up to a standing position yet.

Always use the side rails if your child sleeps in a crib. The rails should be up and locked as soon as you put your child in the crib. A child can climb out if you turn your back or walk away for just a second. Children, even babies, move fast! Keep the side rails up to keep your child from getting hurt.

Is my child ready for a new bed?

Your child might be ready for a toddler bed or other bed if:

  • Your child is 25 to 36 months old.
  • They are at least 3 feet tall.
  • They are potty trained.
  • They can pull themselves up to a standing position.

A doctor or someone else will choose the best bed for your child at St. Jude. It depends on how tall your child is, if they are potty trained, and what type of crib or bed they use at home.


Ask your child’s doctor or nurse if you have any questions about helping your child sleep. We know every child is different, and we are always happy to help you find the best option.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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