sleeping surface

The surface that a baby sleeps on is important. Babies should sleep on a firm, flat surface for every sleep. This could be a cot, crib or Moses basket with a firm well fitted mattress. A carry cot or travel cot is also a suitable sleep surface.  Each of these sleep surfaces will reduce the risk of suffocation, rebreathing, or baby rolling into an unsafe position because of a soft surface which moves under their weight.

When thinking about what sleep space your baby will be in the following standards apply to products sold in the UK.

Cots and cribs must conform to British safety standards (BSEN716). The reason for these safety standards is to reduce the number of accidental infant deaths each year due to strangulation or suffocation. The following guidelines have been developed to help when looking for a cot:

Cot frame

Depth: the distance between the top of the mattress and the top of the cot sides should be at least 50cm, to prevent your baby from climbing out when they become more mobile.

Cot bars should be vertical; if they are horizontal your baby could use them as a ladder to climb out. Also, the distance between the bars should be no more than 6.5cm apart so your baby can’t get stuck between the bars of the cot.

It is also recommended by some experts that a cot with bars on all four sides is better, as it allows air to circulate freely while your baby sleeps.

If your cot has a solid head and footboard with any design shapes cut out, check that your baby’s limbs cannot become caught in any of the spaces.

Cot mattress

We recommend that you buy a new cot mattress, or – if using a second-hand mattress – carefully check that it’s clean, dry and free from cracks or tears. Your cot mattress should be firm, with no sagging and should fit the cot snugly, with no gaps.

Mattresses tend to come in two sizes, standard and continental and should fit the equivalent sizes of cots commonly available in the UK.

The mattress needs to be kept as clean and hygienic as possible. You can either use one with a wipe-clean covering or a removable top panel that you can wash at a high temperature. Alternatively, you could use a mattress protector, which covers the mattress to stop it getting wet if the baby dribbles or their nappy leaks.

Choose a mattress that feels firm rather than soft, your baby needs support while he is sleeping. It should be no thinner than 8cm.

Check it conforms to safety standards – mattresses should carry the BSI number BS 1877-10:1997.

There are three main types of mattresses you can choose from: foam cot mattresses, spring-interior cot mattresses and coir cot mattresses. There are pros and cons to each of these. Do your research, test, touch and feel each type and decide what suits you and your family best

A suitable mattress will not change shape or indent when a baby is placed onto it. Baby’s head will not sink into the surface.

Things to consider

Some parents may choose a bedside cot which attaches on one side to their own bed. These products are available from different manufacturers with different attachment mechanisms. If parents are choosing this type of product, they must be aware of the potential of any gaps or height difference between the two surfaces.

Any continuation of a one surface becomes a potential to be a shared surface which means baby is not protected from loose adult bedding as they would be when within their own sleep space.

You should never place a baby to sleep on a pillow, beanbag, water bed/pillow, and you shouldn’t use hot water bottles or electric blankets.

Please visit the section on avoiding risky sleeping situations such as when babies sleep in a semi flat position in a device such as a swing, bouncy chair, or buggy


Evidence For Our Sleep Surface Messages

Two research studies carried out in Scotland have shown an increased risk of cot death for babies sleeping on a mattress previously used by another baby. The risk was very small if the other baby was an older brother or sister in the same family but higher if the mattress was second-hand from another home

Link to research articles