Cot safety

With products changing and SIDs risks to account for, you might be feeling the pressure of getting your baby to sleep safely. Here’s a simple guide…

Your baby will spend more time sleeping during their first two years than they will awake. Although it might not feel like it when you’re yawning through a 3am feed. So getting things right with their sleeping environment is pretty crucial. 

Watch our video to find out about safe sleep guidelines for babies.

What type of cot should I choose?

To keep your baby as safe as possible in their cot, check that it conforms to British Safety Standards BS EN 716:2008. You’ll also need to follow these guidelines so they don’t get trapped or climb out:

  • The distance between the top of the mattress and the top of the cot sides should be at least 50cm.
  • Cot bars should be vertical and the distance between them no more than 6.5cm.
  • If your cot has a solid head and footboard with shapes cut out, check that your baby’s limbs can’t get caught in them.

(Sengölge and Vincenten, 2013)

Second hand cots: are they safe?

Yes – if you stick to a few checks and rules:

  • Make sure the cot – even if old – conforms to current safety standards.
  • If it’s vintage, it might need to be stripped down and repainted with paint that you’ve checked does not recommend against use on items like cots. Make sure it thoroughly dries. Cots made before 1973 could have been painted with leaded paint, which is toxic.
  • If the cot has a drop-down side mechanism, it's important to make sure it works properly. You should be confident it's secure and won't drop accidentally. If in doubt, it's safer not to use the cot. 
  • Remove any stickers and transfers: they could be choking hazards.
  • Check there is nothing sticking out of the top rail that may catch on your baby’s clothes.
  • Check that there is nothing your baby could use as a foothold to climb out with.

(Sengölge and Vincenten, 2013; ROSPA, 2019)

Does it matter where I put the cot?

As your baby is less able to control their temperature than you are, don’t put it near a radiator or sunny window, for starters. Nearby blind cords should be secured safely and curtains and baby monitor cables need to be out of reach too (Sengölge and Vincenten, 2013).

Do I need to get a new mattress for my baby?

Ideally, you should buy a new mattress for any new baby.

However, the main reason for that is because of a possible small increased risk of SIDS in mattresses brought in from another home (Lullaby Trust, 2018).

So if the mattress has only been used by other children in your family, check that it:

  • has not got any cracks or tears
  • is firm, with no sagging
  • fits the cot snugly with no gaps
  • is clean and dry.

(Lullaby Trust, 2018)

You should also give the waterproof layer a clean before you use it and put a fresh sheet on the mattress.

What mattress should I choose for my baby?

Whatever sort of mattress you choose, it should conform to safety standards BS 1877-10:1997.

Mattresses come in either standard or continental size and go in their equivalent sized cot. Choose one that feels firm because your baby needs support while sleeping.

The mattress needs to be kept clean and dry so get one with a wipe-clean covering or a removable top panel that you can wash at a high temperature. Or use a mattress protector so that if (well, when…) your baby dribbles or their nappy leaks, the mattress won’t get wet (Tappin et al, 2002; Lullaby Trust, 2016)

Baby bedding: what should I use?

When it comes to baby bedding, think the opposite to your pillow and duvet-laden cosy king size. Instead, your baby’s cot should be as free from stuff as possible. Pillows and duvets are not safe for babies under one year old (Lullaby Trust, 2018).

Go for a fitted sheet and a light blanket tucked in below your baby’s shoulder level. They should have their feet at the bottom of the cot or baby sleeping bag so they don’t wriggle down (Nelson et al, 1989; Beal and Byard, 1995; Schellscheidtet al, 1997; Mitchell et al, 2008)

Are cot bumpers really unsafe?

Cot bumpers are not considered safe because of the risk of accidents once your baby can roll and move in their cot. Your baby can also climb onto them (Scheers et al, 2015).

What’s the best way to protect my baby against SIDS?

  • Your baby should sleep on their back for all sleeps (see below).
  • Keep your baby in your bedroom for the first six months.
  • Keep your baby smoke-free during pregnancy and after birth. According to The Lullaby Trust, Around 60% of sudden infant deaths could be avoided if no baby was exposed to smoke during pregnancy or around the home.
  • Never sleep on a sofa or armchair with your baby.
  • Don't co-sleep with your baby if you or your partner has been drinking, is a smoker, has been taking drugs or is extremely tired.
  • Keep your baby’s cot clear. All they need is a flat surface and simple bedding.
  • Make sure your baby doesn't overheat. The ideal room temperature is between 16°C and 20°C. And never use hot water bottles or similar products.

(Stanton, 1984; Nelson et al, 1989; Fleming et al, 1990; Blair et al, 1999; Fleming et al, 2000; Carpenter et al, 2004; Lullaby Trust, 2016)

What position should my baby sleep in?

Babies should sleep on their back with their feet at the foot of the cot to stop them wriggling down under the covers

(Beal and Porter, 1991; Beal and Byard, 1995; Schellscheidt et al, 1997; Fleming et al, 2000; Mitchell et al, 2008).

Can my baby sleep with a pillow or duvet?

Again, less is more for sleeping babies. Babies should not have any duvets or pillows (Lullaby Trust, 2018).

This page was last reviewed in July 2018

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

The Lullaby Trust has lots of useful information and support for parents about safe sleep.

Beal S, Porter C. (1991)  Sudden infant death syndrome related to climate. Acta Paediatr Scand. 80(3):278-287. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2035322 [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Beal SM, Byard RW. (1995) Accidental death or sudden infant death syndrome? J Paediatr Child Health. 31(4):269-271. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7576879 [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Blair PS, Fleming PJ, Smith IJ, Platt MW, Young J, Nadin P, Berry PJ, Golding J. (1999) Babies sleeping with parents: case-control study of factors influencing the risk of the sudden infant death syndrome. CESDI SUDI Research Group. BMJ. 319(7223):1457–1462.  Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC28288/ [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Carpenter RG, Irgens LM, Blair PS, England PD, Fleming P, Huber J, Jorch G, Schreuder P. (2004) Sudden unexplained infant death in 20 regions in Europe: case control study. Lancet. 363(9404):185-191. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14738790 [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Fleming PJ, Bacon C, Blair PS, Berry PJ. (2000) Sudden unexpected deaths in infancy. The CESDI SUDI studies 1993-1996. London: The Stationery Office. [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Fleming PJ, Gilbert R, Azaz Y, Berry PJ, Rudd PT, Stewart A, Hall E. (1990) Interaction between bedding and sleeping position in the sudden infant death syndrome: a population based case-control study. BMJ. 301(6743):85-89. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1663432/ [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Galliers L. (2018) Second-hand cots. Available from: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/cots/article/second-hand-cots [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Mitchell EA, Thompson JM, Becroft DM, Bajanowski T, Brinkmann B, Happe A, Jorch G, Blair PS, Sauerland C, Vennemann MM. (2008) Head covering and the risk for SIDS: Findings from the New Zealand and German SIDS case-control studies. Pediatrics. 121(6):e1478 – 1483. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18519451 [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Nelson EA, Taylor BJ, Weatherall IL. (1989) Sleeping position and infant bedding may predispose to hyperthermia and the sudden infant death syndrome. Lancet. 333(8631):199-201.  Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2563105 [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Public Health England, Metropolitan Police, The Lullaby Trust. (2015) London child safety update – sudden unexpected deaths in infancy: Advice for people working with children, young people and families. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/431396/London_sudden_deaths_in_infancy_update_factsheet.pdf [Accessed 30th July 2018].

ROSPA. (2019) Bedtime: a safe cot. Available from: https://www.rospa.com/Resources/Hubs/Keeping-Kids-Safe-(1)/Bedtime.aspx [Accessed Jan 2020].

SATRA. (2018) Testing the safety of cot mattresses. Available from: https://www.satra.com/spotlight/article.php?id=475 [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Scheers NJ, Woodard DW, Thach BT. (2016) Crib bumpers continue to cause infant deaths: A need for a new preventive approach. The Journal of Pediatrics. 169:93-97. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26621044 [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Schellscheidt J, Ott A, Jorch G. (1997) Epidemiological features of sudden infant death after a German intervention campaign in 1992. Eur J Pediatrics. 156(8):655-660. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9266202 [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Sengölge M, Vincenten J. (2013) Child safety product guide: Potentially dangerous products. Birmingham: European Child Safety Alliance, EuroSafe. Available from: http://www.childsafetyeurope.org/publications/info/product-safety-guide.pdf [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Stanton AN. (1984) Sudden infant death. Overheating and cot death. Lancet. 324(8413):1199-1201. [Accessed 30th July 2018].

Tappin D, Brooke H, Ecob R, Gibson A. (2002) Used infant mattresses and sudden infant death syndrome in Scotland: case-control study. BMJ. 325:1007. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC131017/ [Accessed 30th July 2018].

The European Child Safety Alliance. (2013) Child product safety guide. Available from: http://www.childsafetyeurope.org/publications/info/product-safety-guide.pdf [Accessed 30th July 2018].

The Lullaby Trust. (2018) The best mattresses and bedding for your baby. Available from: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/mattresses-and-bedding [Accessed 30th July 2018].

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