March 28, 2017
Something you hear constantly when you become a parent is to always put your baby to sleep on his back. Whether for naptime or bedtime, the American Academy of Pediatrics says a baby’s back is the safest place for an infant to rest because it has been shown to reduce the likelihood of sudden infant death syndrome. Since 1992 when the AAP began recommending all babies be placed on their back to sleep, deaths from SIDS have drastically declined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just announced that between 2005 and 2014, the infant mortality rate from SIDS declined by 29 percent, but it is still one of the top five causes of death for babies.
SIDS is one of the things that truly scared me when I became a new mother. While some causes of it have been identified, like accidental suffocation in soft bedding and strangulation in tangled blankets, there are still occurrences in which a baby dies in the middle of the night in his bassinet or crib for no apparent reason. Once you become pregnant, the idea of losing your baby is scary enough to take your breath away, and when that baby is born, that feeling intensifies by a billion.
I follow all of the AAP’s advice and guidance from our pediatrician on safe sleeping for my son. He is always put on his back to sleep. First, his bassinet and now his crib have firm mattresses and tight-fitting sheets with no bumpers, no blankets, no stuffed animals and no pillows. We room-share without bed-sharing and provide a pacifier at naptime and bedtime. We never put Killian to sleep with a hat or head covering. I breastfeed my baby, have vaccinated him and provide supervised, daily tummy time to facilitate development. We also swaddled our baby boy when he was a newborn. Once Killian began to roll over at 2 1/2 months, the swaddling had to stop, and we started using a sleep sack to keep him warm at night without using blankets. One of his sleep sacks actually has “Back Is Best” embroidered on it as a gentle reminder of how to put him down to sleep.
Around 5 months old, Killian started rolling onto his side and stomach in his sleep. I discovered this one night when my mama radar woke me even though my baby boy was sleeping soundly. I found him on his side, face down into the mattress. This moment was the closest thing I’ve felt to a heart attack. I leapt from the bed and turned him onto his back, terrified that he had suffocated. He was fine. Perfectly fine. But I was not. I was shaking, near tears and terrified to think that something tragic could have happened if I had not awoken.
For the next few weeks, I would wake every hour to check on Killian. Turning onto his side or partially onto his tummy seemed to be his new preferred way of sleeping. I kept rolling him onto his back and then sitting up awake in my bed watching him to ensure he did not roll back over until this sleep-deprived mama finally succumbed to exhaustion.
Like most everything during my pregnancy and motherhood, I looked to experts and physicians to advise me on how to deal with my baby boy’s sleep rolling. Everything I heard, was told and read said that it was normal behavior. It is common for babies to start sleeping on their side or stomach once they begin rolling over. Experts still recommend that you put your baby to sleep on his back, but they say do not worry about correcting his position in the middle of the night. The baby now has the strength to adjust himself if he gets into a position that compromises his breathing.
Slowly but surely, my fears about suffocation and SIDS have started to dissipate. I no longer adjust Killian’s position if he rolls in his sleep. I check on him during naptime and when I put him down at night before I go to bed to ensure he is safe. I am still waking up once a night, unprompted by him, but I am no longer waking in a frenzied panic.
I think every parent can relate to the worry that accompanies becoming a new mother or father. I have learned to keep my concerns from snowballing into phobias by education and research and by being the very best mama I can be. When I watch my son as he sleeps, I do not want to feel afraid; I simply want to enjoy the heart swell of gratitude, awe and love.