Is it safe for my baby to nap on the sofa?

The couch or sofa may seem like a suitable place for your baby to nap—soft, convenient, and similar to a bed. However, several studies have shown that when it comes to infant risk, the sofa is a hazardous sleep surface and should be avoided—even when the parent is nearby, or lying down with the baby. 

After analyzing records for nearly 8,000 infant deaths in 24 states from 2004–2012, researchers in one study concluded that the sofa is an “extremely hazardous sleep surface for infants.” Nearly three-quarters of the 1,024 infants who died on sofas were between 0–3 months of age, an age infants are least able to roll their bodies away from breathing blockers such as cushions and pillows. Over half (59.5 percent) were boys. The vast majority of deaths on sofa (96.2 percent) occurred in the infant’s own home. Although 36 percent of deaths on sofas were attributed to an “ill-defined” cause and 24 percent to Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), accidental strangulation or suffocation was found to be the cause in 40 percent of the cases. 

Compared with other sleep-related deaths, sofas were more likely to have been shared at the time of death (86.9 percent versus 66.2 percent). This may be related to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) stance that parents should never bedshare with their children. As Dr. Melissa Bartick notes in a piece for the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), “[P]arents who try to avoid bedsharing with their infants are far more likely to feed their babies at night on chairs and couches in futile attempts to stay awake, which actually markedly increases their infants’ risk of suffocation.” 

While the typical sofa serves well as a comfortable place to sit (or even, for an adult or older child, to lie down), it was not designed with infant safety in mind. Odds are that it has big cushions or pillows and soft pillows are known risks for child suffocation. The AAP recommends children sleep on a firm surface—something few sofas provide. 

Sofas tend to have a slight slope too; this helps ensure that sitting individuals can recline comfortably. Unfortunately, it also encourages small babies to roll toward the back of the sofa—right into the soft cushions or into the crease between the back and seat of the sofa. This can happen so gradually that a parent may not be aware of it even if she is in the same room. Even if a parent is lying down too, the baby can still roll and become trapped against the back of the furniture.

So when it comes to infant sleep, avoid the couch or sofa. Here are some added ways to ensure your baby’s safety while napping: 

  • Recognize the risks. There is no way for a narrow, soft, slanted, cushiony sofa to be a safe sleep surface for your baby. Even though you may want your baby to be within eyesight and earshot, it’s not safe to rely on a sofa for naptime. A portable bassinet that is free of blankets, pillows, and other breathing blockers can keep your young baby in close proximity and on a safe sleep surface at the same time. 
  • Have a consistent sleep routine. Many studies of infant sleep-related deaths have shown that changes in routine increase risk. For example, babies who usually sleep on their backs but are put on their stomach to sleep are at increased risk. Those who usually use a pacifier when sleeping but are put to bed without one are also at higher risk. Keep your nap routine consistent. 
  • Review safe sleep recommendations. Know how to keep your baby safe while sleeping. If you choose to bedshare, make sure you know the risks
  • Consider your options. It’s normal to want to keep your baby where you can see and hear him during naps. Try taking tasks you’re working on (such as folding laundry) into the room where he is sleeping. Other options include babywearing or spreading out a sleeping mat or blanket on the floor. Make sure that this is a large space free of pillows, toys, or other breathing blockers, including pets. And don’t leave your baby unattended. 

For more on safe sleep, read this.

Last updated April 22, 2015

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