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Ah, sleep time. Possibly the most stressful part of the day for parents with young babies, if it’s not them taking forever to go to sleep, frequent wakings or suddenly being wide awake at 2am then it’s something else. We’ve covered a few sleep relating articles here on Best For Mums, here we discuss the strange behaviour where cot sleeping babies hit their head on the cot, seemingly rhythmically and on purpose.
Nobody wants to see that but again it’s more common than you think. Most babies will grow out of it unharmed naturally but there are some tips we can give you to try and reduce the occurrence.
Why do babies hit their head on the cot?
We believe that the head banging on the cot isn’t deliberate and most infants are completely unaware it is happening and have no recollection in the morning. The likely answer is that due to the constrained size of a cot, the head banging is a result of the rhythmic body rocking and being too close to the crib sides and ends. Effectively, it is a type of self-soothing to get them back to sleep.
When they are in a light sleep in-between phases, babies can often sit up (it looks very scary on a monitor) and seemingly rock back and forth before plundering back into their sleep. If they are in a tight space, such as a cot or crib, this can sometimes result in a head bang on the side. A study in triplets calls this Sleep-Related Rhythmic Movement Disorder, and say that it is common. On occasion, I have observed my own son perform this behaviour and he has never slept in a cot. Therefore, we feel that the head banging is a byproduct of cot sleeping but the body rocking and rhythmic movements can be seen in babies who do not.
However, can the head hitting be stopped?
How to stop babies hitting their heads in the cot
Head banging is common and more often than not, not a health concern. The objective should be to limit the damage it can cause, rather than prevent something which appears to be natural.
All parents should hold their babies as much as possible. By observing them on a monitor you can see when this behaviour starts to happen and intercept them with a cuddle. This should keep them asleep and stop their body rocking. You can get in to the cot if there’s room or simply pick them up and put them back down. Frequent wakings are normal and should be expected with babies all the way until they’re three. Unless you are sleep training, nothing works better than a cuddle or if you’re breastfeeding, the boob.
A baby sleeping bag, like a Gro bag, is an useful tool to keep them warm and safely restrict movement. The gro bag encourages sounder sleep and less turnings in the night. A baby sleeping bag can stop your baby hitting their head on the crib as it keeps them laying on their bag and makes sitting up in a lul less likely. It’s not foolproof but it’s a safe option to try.
Pad out the crib
Padding out the cot won’t stop them from body rocking or hitting their head but it will soften the blow. This works quite well considering how common the head hitting is as well as body rocking in general. Bed bumpers can be used either do-it-yourself bumpers or purpose built bumper guards but these generally only cover the bottom of the sides and not the middle and top where they actually do the banging. Instead, something like an Airwrap cot mesh bumper can work well as it stops them from getting legs trapped, remains breathable and you could secure a cushion in-between the mesh and the bars.
For better results you can buy cotton mesh and then cut it to size to fit your baby’s own cot, although there is a bit more work one your part here.
Trawl through any UK parenting forum and you’ll quickly find how common baby hitting head on cot is, with seemingly no experiences where the baby came to any harm. Indeed, it is quite common and even babies who do not sleep in cots appear to mimic similar behaviour without the head hitting (as there is nothing to hit). We’ve offered some tips on how to possibly reduce the chances of it happening through interception, the use of sleeping bags as well as how to minimise any potential risk of injury through bed bumpers and a mesh lining.
Our overall advice is if you’re concerned, keep an eye on them with a camera and intercept it but if you feel that it is normal then adding some protection will give you some peace of mind even if it won’t let you rest.