I had never even heard the term “safe sleep” until I was about five months pregnant.
All I knew was that there was a scary monster out there called SIDS.
I largely assumed that sleep-related infant death was just a random freak occurrence. I thought I would just have to live with anxiety and feelings of helplessness that this could happen to my baby.
I knew that babies should sleep on their backs… but that’s really it.
It wasn’t until I saw a thread in my due date group that it even occurred to me that there was anything to learn about.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know…
I joined a 55,000-member Facebook group dedicated to evidence-based safe sleep, and figured I’d ask them about my new purchase, the cult favorite DockATot.
I innocently inquired whether it would be safe for my baby to sleep in it. I preemptively added the caveat that I wouldn’t use it to bedshare, thinking that this would likely earn the DockATot the green light for safe sleep.
Within minutes of posting my question, I received dozens of responses, every single one of them pointing to evidence that the DockATot wouldn’t be a safe place for my baby to sleep, even if I was watching. The group explained the risks of suffocation and re-breathing of CO2, and how supervision wouldn’t eliminate this risk.
Then, two ‘loss moms’ joined in. (This is a horrific term I had never heard before joining the group). One mom bravely shared that her daughter had died at 10.5 months old by the very mechanism that we were discussing, re-breathing her own carbon dioxide.
This hit me like a ton of bricks.
I truly couldn’t believe it. I was so uninformed. How was this not common knowledge? How was I *this close* to putting my baby’s life at risk without even knowing it?
Now I was mad.
Instagram, whose algorithm had figured out I was pregnant, had been filling my home feed with babies sleeping cozily in their DockATots for months now.
Like so many thousands of people, I would have unknowingly put my baby’s life at risk just by using a product the way “everyone else” was.
Following the science…
From that point on, I spent hours each day reading epidemiology papers. (My biostatistcian husband was proud).
The more I read, the more shocked I became by the lack of cultural awareness surrounding safe sleep and preventing SIDS.
Everyone knows that babies are supposed to ride in car seats. I’ve never seen an argument about this on social media. I’ve never seen one mom tell another, “you do you, mama” when it comes to whether to use a car seat. I’ve never scrolled through an entire feed of infants riding around unrestrained in a moving vehicle.
And yet, SIDS kills more babies each year than car accidents.
You read that right. SIDS is the #1 cause of death in healthy full-term infants.
Yet, here we are in 2019 (at the time), armed with evidence from rigorous scientific studies… and somehow it’s not widely known (or accepted) that there are simple things we can do to protect our babies from the #1 cause of infant death.
In starting this blog, I’m hoping to help change that.
Here are 3 things I didn’t know about safe sleep before I read the evidence:
If your baby falls asleep in a swing / lounger / bouncy chair, you should move him to a safe sleep space.
The only safe places for infant sleep are a CRIB, BASSINET, or PLAY YARD. Those are regulated terms.
I used to think that as long as you were supervising, it would be fine for a baby to sleep in something like a DockATot or a Mamaroo.
Here’s why it’s not: when babies aren’t getting enough oxygen, it’s not always obvious. They aren’t necessarily going to cry or making a choking sound. For this reason, re-breathing of CO2 and positional asphyxia are known as silent killers.
“[SIDS] usually happens at night and occurs in complete silence—there is no fight for life or breath to warn parents that something is horribly wrong.” (Source)
This is why the AAP recommends that infants be placed flat on their backs on a firm surface to sleep. All sleeps! Supervised naps too.
It is no longer safe to swaddle when your baby starts showing signs of rolling.
According to the current 2020 AAP guidelines:
“Parents should stop swaddling as soon as their baby shows any signs of trying to roll over. Many babies start working on rolling at around 2 months of age.”
The risk of death is high if a swaddled infant rolls onto his stomach.
The lead author of the AAP’s safe sleep guidelines and chair of the Task Force on SIDS, Dr. Rachel Y. Moon, says:
“Given that we see deaths from babies who are swaddled and end up on their stomachs by 2-2½ months, I get really nervous when babies are swaddled past the age of 8 weeks.”
If you’re wondering what to use for your baby after the aforementioned milestones, the answer is a sleep sack! A loose wearable blanket is safe for any age, newborns included.
Read more about all of this:
Offering a pacifier before bedtime/naptime reduces the risk of SIDS by up to 90%.
This totally sounds like pseudoscience, I know.
Scientists are not sure exactly how pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDS. While we have hard data on the effectiveness of pacifiers as a protective factor, the exact mechanisms remain theories.
Just offering the pacifier before each sleep is enough to receive the protective factor — and you don’t have to replace the pacifier if it falls out. The AAP specifies that the protective effect will still persist throughout the sleep period.
Note that this isn’t a replacement for following the ABCs of safe sleep.
The good news is that once you learn (and follow) a few basic rules, the risk of your baby dying due to sleep-related causes is negligible.
As someone with anxiety, this helps me immensely.
If you’re new to the subject of safe sleep, these two posts are a great place to check out next:
Finally, if you’d like to check out the evidence-based safe sleep group I mentioned earlier, here is a link.
All of my safe sleep posts here...
Help me normalize safe sleep!
My goal: Make safe sleep instagrammable and pin-worthy.
By making science and safety pretty, I’m hoping to attract the attention of parents and caretakers who might have otherwise remained in the dark.
If you’d be willing to share this post on your own social media or pin any of my graphics on Pinterest, that would be so awesome.
If you have your own beautiful photos of safe sleep that I can share in addition to my own, I would love to include more pictures of other safe sleepers! Click here to send me some pics!
Correct me if I'm wrong!
Citing the most up-to-date scientific evidence correctly is important to me.
I have no ego in this. If you think I got something wrong and want to tell me, I'm happy to be corrected with evidence from a reputable source. Contact me here.