Updated: Aug 16
A few years ago, as I prepared to become a mother, I swore we weren't going to participate in unsafe sleep practices. And for the most part, we didn't. When we did, however, it was unknowingly. And I say that, having thought I had done my research and educated myself well enough. Looking back, I know we did pretty well with keeping our son safe while he slept, but we could have done better. And with this next one on the way, I know we will.
I swear, this has been my daily mantra since becoming a parent - "When you know better, you do better" - and in my opinion, there are no wiser words from Maya Angelou.
I don't want to share these things to worry or shame parents and please know that is not my intent with this blog post - it's hard enough learning everything for the first time with a newborn baby. I want to share my story and experiences so that others can learn and do better. As parents, part of our job is to do the best we can to provide a safe environment for our children.
So, what did we, and unfortunately so many other new parents, do wrong?
Well, for starters, we accepted all the free baby gear we could get our hands on. We also accepted gifts that I had an inkling were not safe for long amounts of unsupervised sleep - the Fischer Price Rock-n-Play anyone? - that we used only for supervised, short amounts of sleep. Yes, we used it, very sparingly, and I look back and thank God that nothing happened to our son, since the recall of this product in April 2019 after reports of more than 30 infant deaths. There was also updated information out this week that more than 70 babies have now died using an inclined sleeper. The 30% incline of these products is what research is showing led to most of the deaths. Let's see, he also slept in his carseat not in its base on occasion (very rarely, and again, never unsupervised) when he didn't wake up upon arriving home or to our location. There is more information here regarding that. We also allowed our son, on occasion, to fall asleep in what is marketed to new parents as a "lounger," similar to other items marketed as "sleepers." I'll get to more on the marketing schemes later...
We received a few swings as hand-me-downs, and while I was so appreciative of them (and still am!), I now know moving forward, that we will not be using them for sleep with our next baby, due to the incline. However, I think they can be so valuable in helping calm a fussy baby. They should really only be used while the baby is awake. Swinging can also be a great awake time activity when mom or dad just need a minute for some hands-free time.
We accepted the Rock-N-Play inclined sleeper as a gift, and didn't even set it up until I was going back to work after my maternity leave, because we wanted our little one to be able to nap downstairs while being supervised by his caregivers (his grandmas). And even then, I knew it shouldn't have been used for long periods of sleep, so my rule was "for naps only, while supervised" - I bet my mom and mother-in-law thought I was crazy anal about it - but looking back, I'm glad that's all I allowed it for. Luckily, my little guy outgrew it fairly quickly, so we only used it for a short amount of time. Just the fact that BABIES DIE while using this product still makes me so mad, upset, sad, and heartbroken for those families who have had to deal with the loss of their sweet little baby from the use of this product. I feel it is my job to help educate parents about these products so that no more little ones are taken too soon.
So, on that note, I've had a feeling that products such as the Dock-a-Tot, Snuggle Me Organic Lounger, Snuggle Nest, and the like, are not safe either because they don't follow the AAP's recommendations for safe sleep. Consumer Reports came out with a press release earlier this week that I shared on my social media confirming these suspicions. More infant deaths in products like these, and it breaks my heart.
I am so upset as a parent that these terms "loungers" and "sleepers" are allowed to be used in a company's marketing campaigns to new and unknowing parents. These terms are in no way regulated, and any one would think if it is marketed as a SLEEPER it can be used for sleep - THIS IS SO WRONG. It cannot. It should not. And if you, like me, have been deceived into believing it's okay to use for sleep, please just stop. Ditch it. It is not worth your child's life.
So what is a quick and easy way to remember the safe sleep rules? The ABC's of Safe Sleep of course!
A - Alone. The baby should be placed in a crib or bassinet with a flat surface with nothing else besides a fitted sheet. Babies younger than 12-14 weeks can be swaddled, just make sure there is no way for the swaddle to become loose. Babies older than this can use sleep sacks rather than blankets...remember, nothing loose! The AAP recommends waiting to introduce a small blankie or lovey item until at least 12 months old.
B - Back. The infant should be placed on their back, always. Even if they can roll over. Place them on their back. Since the "Back to Sleep" campaign started in the eighties, SIDS cases have decreased significantly. Just know that until your little one can independently roll both ways, they should be sleeping on their back. If they are on the verge of mastering this skill, I'd recommend lots of practice during the day to help.
C - Crib. A flat surface, marketed as a "crib" or "bassinet" is the safest place for your little one to sleep. These terms are regulated and therefore, can be trusted, unlike the terms "lounger" or "sleeper." I also want to note that products like the Snuggle Nest that are marketed for parents who want to co-sleep in the same bed as their child, may provide a flat surface, but cause a risk if the baby were to roll, get stuck against a sleeping parent, and be unable to breathe.
Another hot-button item I would like to address is co-sleeping, for me, defined as sleeping in the same room as your child. Others would define it as sharing a bed with a child. Co-sleeping (in the same room, not the same bed) is recommended by the AAP until a baby is 12 months of age, and at least 6 months. Honestly, this is one recommendation I struggle with. I understand that a mother's intuition and the validity of that is one main reason for this recommendation. But, if like in our case, the mother is unable to sleep while the little loud, grunting baby is within arm's reach at night, how is this beneficial for anyone's wellbeing? I'd recommend to do it for as long as you can, but know that it's okay to move your little one if you aren't sleeping. Remember my oxygen mask analogy from a few weeks ago? You must first put on your own mask in order to help others...mamas need to get a little sleep too to be able to take care of their little one during night feeds and the next day.
Bed-sharing is dangerous, period. I don't care if you "are doing it safely." There is always a higher risk of entrapment and suffocation. It's not worth it.
Babies are capable of sleeping, and sleeping well.
If you find yourself in an unsafe sleep situation, please reach out to me. I would be honored and overjoyed to help you get your little one into a safer situation. If you find that you are following all the recommendations, but are still struggling to get the quality sleep your baby needs, please reach out to me. I would be honored and overjoyed to help you teach them how to do it.