Before a baby is even born, parents should learn (and re-learn, then learn again) best practices for safe sleep to help reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). The only caveat to these guidelines is if a baby is born early or with a serious health condition, in which case, there are some sleep rules they break in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) to keep babies safe and encourage growth and healing.
For the most part, medical professionals in the NICU still adhere to the general safe sleep guidelines. Carissa Stephens, RN and Medical Advisor for Healthline Media, tells Romper that most hospitals model and teach National Institute of Health (NIH) Safe-to-Sleep guidelines, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). These include, but are not limited to, making sure babies sleep on their backs on a flat surface that is "separate from anyone else (including twin siblings), and free of toys, pillows, blankets, etc."
Denise Corso-Greene, MSN, agrees, but adds that it's not cut and dry in the NICU. She tells Romper that "the hospital setting is innately different from the home environment and NICU infants still require medical care," which might mean their medical team has to break some of the general rules for safe sleep.
That still doesn't change how parents should put NICU babies to sleep once their little ones are home. "When babies are discharged, I spend a lot of time [with parents discussing] safe sleep guidelines because until close to discharge, [the infant hasn't] slept in a crib [or] only on their back," Elizabeth Brown, RNC-LRN, tells Romper.
Neonatologist Enrique Gomez, M.D., adds that in addition to teaching safe sleep, he also discourages parents of NICU babies from using home monitoring devices for things like heart rate and oxygen levels. "Research regarding home monitoring have shown that there is no decrease in the risk of SIDS when using these devices," he tells Romper. "Conversely, there is an increase in parental stress as these monitors can be triggered by normal infant movements".
The thing to remember is that these safe sleep guidelines are given to parents once their baby is healthy and thriving enough to leave the NICU, which means they are not in danger of an episode or event that could risk their life. When they're in the NICU, that's not necessarily the case, so some rules are broken... but always for very good reason.