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    Sleeping Like a Baby

    January 26, 2007 by Brandy Vencel

    You’re letting her sleep on her tummy!” Grandmother gasped when she saw Q. sleeping soundly in her bassinet in the living room on Sunday evening. “I know,” I said. “Don’t tell anyone.”

    “Well, I put all my babies to sleep on their tummies, but I thought you kids didn’t do that these days,” replied Grandmother.

    We’re not supposed to, I thought.

    The Back to Sleep Campaign was in full force when I became a mother. The hospital made moms feel extreme pressure to make their babies sleep on their backs. I hated watching my son sleep that way. Babies have a startle reflex that works overtime when they are on their backs, and they will jerk themselves awake throughout their naps.

    When E. ended up in the NICU, I was amazed to see that almost every baby there was sleeping on their side or tummy. I asked one of the nurses about it. “They sleep better that way,” she said thoughtlessly, then quickly added, “and we have oxygen monitors on them to make sure they’re breathing. You’d never have that at home.”

    But it rung in my ears: They sleep better that way. I remembered this when it was the middle of the night and E. was struggling to stay asleep. I was emboldened one night, and flipped him over. He visibly calmed. He slept better from then on. And I began to question the now-conventional wisdom of putting babies on their backs.

    Infant Mortality Rates and Other Facts

    The Back to Sleep Campaign began in 1994. Eleven years later, ABC News ran an article wondering why infant mortality rates were on the rise in the United States. Let me repeat: after seven years, Back to Sleep became common knowledge, and yet more babies died in 2002 than in 2001.

    More recently, a study linked SIDS to a genetic defect. Everytime I heard my local radio station broadcast information about the study, they quickly added that putting babies on their backs “still helps.” Well, so does getting good prenatal care, eating right while pregnant, not smoking or doing drugs while pregnant, not smoking around the baby once it is born, breastfeeding, keeping the baby the right temperature while sleeping, making sure the baby’s crib sheets are pulled tight and blankets are not covering the face, wearing the baby or holding the baby most of the time.

    Dr. Sears himself admits that one of the main reasons placing baby on his back to sleep works is because the baby awakens easier.

    Personal Experience

    Ah, yes, Baby does awaken easier. And personal observations tell me that this also means that the quality of sleep attained is inferior. Many people comment on how well my children sleep. I am a firm believer that healthy sleep habits begin at birth. I work with my children from Day One to promote these habits because I believe that good sleep is a cornerstone of good health. I am giving my children a lifelong gift if I can help them learn to sleep well.

    This means that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The Back to Sleep wisdom says that all (or almost all) babies should sleep on their backs. Period. Anytime someone encourages everyone to do the same thing (and it’s not in the Bible), I raise a mental red flag.

    In this situation, if the parent assumes the campain is correct, that every baby should sleep on their back, then that parent is not performing their parental duty of assessment. It is the parent’s job to learn about their baby and decide, using much prayer asking God for wisdom, what is best for their baby. God entrusted the baby to the parent, not a campaign.

    Let me give a couple examples: A friend of mine found her son not breathing in his crib. She rushed him to the hospital, and thankfully his life was spared. In the process she learned that he should be placed on his tummy while sleeping because he was aspirating milk in his sleep whenever he spit up. My nephew, on the other hand, had some pretty severe medical issues, including a hiatal hernia that would cause him to empty the entire contents of his stomach while lying down. He slept sitting up for the first couple years of his life.

    My children, thankfully, haven’t had these types of issues, but they are still individuals. This means that, using a foam prop, E. actually slept on his side most of the time until he was old enough to roll over. This was his preference, and seemed to promote the best, most restful sleep for him. A. preferred her back until she was too old to remain swaddled. Then she liked her tummy. Q. has liked her tummy (or being held) since day one. Let me repeat, each child has been a bit different.

    In Conclusion

    I am not saying that babies should not sleep on their backs. I am saying that the parent should be responsible, assess the situation, and decide for themselves what works for their child. And the parent, especially the insecure first-time mom, should not feel pressured by others to make their child sleep any particular way because this is not a moral issue.

    In a world where more and more people are requiring medicine to help them sleep at night, there is more to this picture than infant mortality. I think something that should be considered (besides the fact that there is no concrete evidence that back sleeping actually saves lives, as some back sleeping babies still die of SIDS) is the possible long-term effects of poor sleep in the first months of life.

    I know that the common meaning phrase sleeping like a baby only rang true in our family when I flipped the babies over and let them sleep more peacefully.

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  • Reply Kimbrah January 27, 2007 at 12:30 am

    That’s funny, I went through the same process you went through with E. when we first had Karlos. When I found out our friends let their baby sleep on his tummy I just thought they were the worst parents.

    Now we let our kids sleep however they want to. I guess we’re the bad parents now, too. 😉 Bobby still sleeps on his tummy to this day. I sure hope he doesn’t get SIDS. 😛

  • Reply Anonymous January 26, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    I’m not leaving my name…. but my baby is currently on her stomach, sound asleep. She also prefers her stomach or being held, although she will sometimes sleep well on her side. She is only 2 weeks old (already), but seems to take after her mother in this area.

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