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Sleep Talk

Friday, October 21, 2005
This article talks about how some parents are choosing to disregard the research which shows that the safest sleep position for most newborns and young infants is on their backs, and are choosing to place those babies to sleep on their tummies instead. The article cites a BabyCenter.com poll of 24,000 parents which found that 42% of parents put their babies to sleep on their stomachs and 43% put their babies to sleep on their backs -- this despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics and other leading health authorities (including the Canadian Paediatric Society) have been recommending the "back to sleep" position since 1994.

Sarah Gilbert, editor of Blogging Baby, notes that she has been using the stomach-sleeping position with her children and states in the article that "The Web consensus is that it is okay to do so." (Fellow Blogging Baby editor Jay Allen also has a post on this topic here.)

Erica Lyon, a newborn-care instructor and the director of Manhattan's RealBirth Center says: "I'm very sympathetic to the mother who is so sleep-deprived that she puts the baby on its belly knowing that all the experts recommend not to. The role of the professional is to say 'these are the recommendations and this is why.' The role of the parent is to think critically and apply those recommendations in a way that makes their life manageable."

An American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson quoted in the story acknowledged that a mother has a right to make her own choices, and that there are no guarantees where SIDS is concerned. You can follow all the SIDS recommendations to the letter and still experience the tragedy of having a baby die of SIDS.

What the article fails to point out is that there is some sensible middle ground here. You don't have to find yourself stuck between a rock (not getting any sleep because your baby doesn't like sleeping on his back) and a dangerous place (increasing your baby's risk of SIDS by putting him to bed on his tummy). You can make the back-sleeping position more baby-friendly by swaddling your newborn (just don't overheat your baby), by using soothing sounds, by using motion to your advantage, and so on. You can also ask other people in your life to support you -- to help you to get the sleep you need during this exhausting phase of parenthood. The situation doesn't have to be as black or white as this article makes it appear.

One final point: part of being a parent is making difficult or unpopular choices in so far as your child is concerned. If your child is sick and needs medication, you have to tell him to take the medication, even if he hates taking medicine. If your eight year old hates brushing his teeth, you've got to find a way to get those teeth clean. Well, part of being the parent of a newborn is making the best, healthiest choices for your newborn. Your baby might not "like" being in a car seat, but you don't give your baby the choice to ride around in the car in your arms instead. Your newborn might not "like" sleeping on his back, but there are a lot of things you can do to help him to adjust to that sleeping position short of allowing him to sleep in a position that has been proven to be riskier for babies.

For more on the back to sleep position, see

Safe Sleep and Your Baby -- Summarizes some of the key risk factors.
Infant Sleep Position and SIDS -- A detailed FAQ on infant sleep position for health-care providers.

| posted by Ann D @ 9:19 PM