December 7, 2011 by Leah
Another frontier in child safety that seems, suddenly, to have a lot of new rules is sleep. Since my brother was a baby (he’s 10 years younger than me and as well as being a cool guy, he’s a handy reference point), the American Academy of Pediatrics and everyone else has flip-flopped on sleep positioning. We are now all to put our babies to sleep on their backs. I’m cool with that, but I know a lot of parents of my mother’s generation (Mom not included) are horrified by this idea and completely certain their grandchildren are going to aspirate their own vomit and die, sad and alone, in their sterile cribs. I think the Wikipedia entry on the NICHD’s “Back to Sleep” campaign is a rather compelling summation of why putting babies to sleep on their backs is a good idea. In a nutshell: the incidence of SIDS has declined 50% since the campaign was introduced in 1994.
Okay, so, baby is supposed to sleep on its back. That’s no problem for any of us. The next question is: where is it supposed to sleep?
On a firm, flat surface, nowhere near pillows, blankets, quilts, stuffed animals, crib bumpers, or other people, is how I read the NIH recommendations. My mom did have a problem with this one, as it means coordinating crib bumpers and bedding are out (she loves to shop), and she wondered where the fun in this was. I am thrilled to have an excuse to avoid buying “cute” crib bumpers (don’t expect a swanky nursery in this household), but I’m kind of annoyed by the government’s recommendation that babies not sleep with their parents. (Particularly when said government is of the City of Milwaukee. Oy vey.)
Before I got pregnant, I’d done a lot of reading about the benefits of various practices when it comes to baby-rearing, and I just assumed we would co-sleep (bed-share, whatever you want to call it) with our infant. I’m a big fan of Dr. Sears and liked his take on co-sleeping and how it can be benficial. Then I became pregnant, started reading about safe co-sleeping out of more than just passing interest, and quickly realized that bringing a baby into our bed would be difficult.
For example: Our bed is several feet off the ground. We could get a safety net thing to keep baby from rolling off the bed, but those are all designed to keep toddlers in toddler beds, not for co-sleeping with your infant, and baby might get wedged between the net and the mattress, and that would not be good. We could put our mattress and box spring on the floor, but I slept on the floor for a number of years and it’s really not my favorite thing, and we’d still be a couple of feet off the ground. (Can you imagine if, God forbid, I have to have a c-section and then come home to face a mattress on the floor? I’ve had major abdominal surgery. I would probably cry and try to run away, but be hampered by lack of abdominal strength and pain meds and end up in a sobbing heap on the floor with a squished baby and anxious dog.)
If I were enthusiastic about any of these safety options, I still have the people who already sleep in the bed to contend with.
I’m an incredibly heavy sleeper. The elusive “they” say my maternal instinct will kick in once baby is in bed with me, but I don’t want to rely on that. I’m not so much worried about rolling over on baby (I tend not to move when I sleep – cue numb extremities) as I am about missing distress signals.
I don’t really know what kind of a sleeper Aaron is because I sleep so heavily, but I do know he occasionally has violent dreams that cause him to lash out, punching and kicking. Once, ages ago, I woke up to find a sleeping Aaron on top of me and his forearm across my throat like he was trying to strangle me. (It was alarming, but not as alarming as it sounds.) He woke right up when I freaked out, and the bed was soft. Also, his violent dreams are genetic and not his fault. Still, I am equipped to fight back. Baby will not be.
Finally, Duke sleeps with us and has no respect for personal space.
We have a crib already, and a separate room for baby, but since I’m planning on nursing the baby until it goes to college, I have no interest in getting up and hiking to the second bedroom every time baby is hungry. Our house is cold, and it’s a long hike.
I’ve heard you can night-wean babies, and I’ve also heard that it can be nice to have the baby sleep in a different room (for reasons ranging from “you only wake up when it actually cries and aren’t distracted by random movements and snuffling” to “it helps you remember you have a husband with whom you’re supposed to be in love”), but if we go that route, it won’t be right off the bat.
I think I’m going to order a co-sleeper off eBay. (Anyone know if they’re really as easy to travel with as advertised?) And, then, if I get lucky, baby will like it. Or, maybe I will end up like a friend of mine who carefully planned out all this same stuff and then had a baby who would only sleep for over an hour if she was touching one of her parents or in her swing, of all places. The one thing I feel confident expecting (other than a baby) is that all my expectations will be challenged or thrown out the window once the baby actually arrives. Which is why I’ll keep reviewing safe co-sleeping habits; the more we know, the better we’ll be able to improvise.
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