October is SIDS Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to review safe sleep practice for babies. Babies need to sleep safely and develop a healthy bond with their mothers. These two essential newborn needs must occur in the first months of an infant’s life, but they do not occur simultaneously.
How can a loving parent provide the safest possible sleep environment for that beautiful little infant? The most important advice has been repeated since 1992: Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep. This has cut the number of infant deaths from sudden infant death syndrome in half.
Unfortunately, 50 percent of babies still are dying. A close look at the deaths has revealed that many of these babies who died were sleeping in unsafe places. We don’t know all of the answers to the question of why these babies die. But we do know the chance of death would have been reduced if those babies were placed to sleep in the way recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
After extensive research, the AAP recommends an infant be placed to sleep on his or her back alone in a safety approved crib. This crib should have a tight fitting mattress with a fitted crib sheet and there must never be loose blankets, pillows, bumper pads or toys in the crib with the baby. The crib should be in the parents’ bedroom close to the parents’ bed. This allows the parent to reach over to soothe the baby during the night and easily place the baby back in his own crib after feeding.
In the first months of a child’s life it is crucially important that a baby and his or her mother form a firm bond. Some proponents of co-sleeping justify the risks with the argument that being in close proximity allows for bonding. Bonding and attachment are vital, but the most significant bonds are formed while the baby is awake and interacting with the mother or father. It is this action and response – give and take – that ensures a baby’s security and self-esteem. Furthermore, quality sleep is an essential component of healthy parenting and infant growth and development. It is questionable whether or not both mother and baby are receiving periods of deep sleep with active REM while sleeping in the same bed.
Adult beds are not appropriate for infants. Heavy quilts or comforters and pillows can cover or smother a baby. Soft bedding also may surround the infant and reduce the flow of oxygen while trapping carbon dioxide so the baby re-breaths air and thereby stresses their system. Also, a parent who is too tired or even unaware that the baby is in the bed may put an arm over the infant or somehow roll onto the baby.
Babies have slept with their parents for ages. Most babies do not die. But the chance of a tragedy is increased by this practice. Historically, in many parts of the world where babies slept with their mother, adult beds were mats, not with soft bedding. Our affluence has increased our comfort and the bed is luxuriously filled for our sleeping comfort. If we would be willing to remove all the blankets and pillows, we could reduce risks.
Many people are advised to take their baby to bed for a variety of reasons. Usually this is recommended by someone who thinks, “I did it and my child was fine.” The probability is that your baby will be fine, too, because the number of babies who die compared to the number of babies that are born is small. But the risk has to be considered. Never sleep with a baby.
Never sleep with an infant in a chair, recliner, couch or waterbed. The baby may fall between the body and the back of the couch or between cushions or in a crevice at the side and suffocate.
Not everyone always does what they know is best for their baby. Sometimes it is just easier to bring the baby to bed with you. But the fact is – having a baby is not easy. As a parent, you have a responsibility to care for your child in spite of the fact that a lot is demanded of you as a parent. The safest place for a baby to sleep is on the back, alone in a safety-approved crib near your bed.
– Dora Gorski, Infant Death Center and Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin in Wausau