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 explained that I wouldn’t use it to bedshare, thinking this would likely earn DockATot the green light for sleep.
But 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.
(More on that in a moment).
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…
How was it not common knowledge that babies shouldn’t nap in loungers?
How was I *this close* to putting my baby’s life at risk without even knowing it?
I was mad.
Instagram, whose algorithm had figured out I was pregnant, had been filling my 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 biostatistician husband was proud).
The more I read, the more shocked I became by the lack of cultural awareness surrounding safe sleep and preventing SIDS.
What I didn’t understand (and probably never will) is why safe sleep wasn’t (and isn’t) as widely known or accepted as car seat safety.
Everyone knows that babies are supposed to ride in car seats.
And not only does everyone know this, but it’s also never up for debate.
I’ve never seen one mom tell another, “you do you, mama” when it comes to using a regulated car seat.
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 today in the 2020s, armed with evidence from rigorous scientific studies, and somehow it still isn’t 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.
Now I’m about to tell you the 3 things about safe sleep that shocked me the most…
But before I do, you should quickly send yourself this guide to Safe Sleep 101 to read later.
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, or bouncy chair, you should move him to a safe sleep space.
There are only three safe places for a baby to sleep: a regulated CRIB, BASSINET, or PLAY YARD.
This means that all the other products marketed for infant sleep are not actually safe for sleep.
(Thankfully, a new law will force this to change in 2022).
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 don’t necessarily 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)
Worst of all, this can happen in only a minute.
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.
Now, onto the second thing I was surprised to learn…
It’s no longer safe to swaddle when your baby starts showing signs of rolling.
I had no idea there was any deadline to stop swaddling. I just thought it was something a baby would ‘grow out of’, so to speak.
I was wrong.
According to the current 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.”
Because according to the AAP, 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.”
There’s a lot packed into this subject. You can read more about it here:
When, Why, and How to Stop Swaddling (The Ultimate Swaddle Transition Guide)
Quickly send yourself that link for later. Click here to email.
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 practicing safe sleep.
If you’re feeling a little scared and overwhelmed right now, I’ve been there too.
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.