October is SIDS Awareness month, and if there’s anything we mothers hear over and over again, it’s “Back to sleep, tummy to play.”
But one thing no one tells you is how to get your baby to sleep on his back. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a baby who eats and sleeps easily. You’ll place him on his back for naps and bedtime and he’ll doze dreamily. But that’s not reality for most of us.
I remember when we brought our first child home from the hospital. We tried to put her to sleep in her bed, but she only wanted to be held! Both my son and my niece were the exact same way. My third child, who is nearly 3 months old, is the exception. He’s Mr. Easy Peasy, and from Day 1, he’s been happy sleeping anywhere. He gets that from his daddy!
But if your baby is like my other two babies, you might have a harder time getting your little one to sleep on his back. We had to be very proactive if we wanted our first two little ones to sleep on their backs, and we were especially grateful that we put forth the effort when our second baby had emergency lung surgery as a newborn. While in ICU, he had no option but to sleep on his back, and I think this would have been even more difficult had he been used to sleeping on his tummy.
Since the Back to Sleep campaign began in 1992, cases of SIDS have gone down by 50%. My pediatrician says that he rarely sees SIDS cases now that more parents are putting babies to sleep on their backs. He used to see at least 2 cases a year, but he says he has seen only 3 SIDS cases total in the 20 years of the Back to Sleep campaign. Those are some pretty bold statistics!
Here are our family’s 3 steps for making your baby a back sleeper.
1) Swaddle: My husband calls me a professional swaddler, but I learned from the best. When our first child was born, he read up on how to swaddle and became an expert in it, teaching me how to swaddle as well.
Not just any swaddle will do. You’ll want a nice tight swaddle, and consider swaddling up one or both hands for your younger baby. They love to feel secure. Also, a loose swaddle will leave extra fabric hanging around, which is a suffocation hazard. To achieve a good swaddle, I love the Aden & Anais Swaddle blankets. They’re huge, lightweight, and perfect for swaddling.
2) Side: For my first two babies, we actually had to place them to sleep on their sides for a night or two, almost as a transition to back sleeping. I’m sure the SIDS experts would consider this to be a big no no, so think twice about doing it, but it definitely helped us. 3) SAFE Sleep positioner: We used these for the first few weeks with each of my children and found them to be a huge help, but again, please know that these have been recalled. Think about it: Sleeping on a soft squishy thing between two soft squishy things goes contrary to everything we know about SIDS prevention.
However, I think there’s a safe way to do it. First, get one that has no pillow underneath it. Secondly, position the bumper pads near your child’s arms rather than face to prevent a suffocation hazard. I would use it for as little time as possible.
The latest popular sleep positioner is the Nap Nanny. From what I hear, these things are amazing at getting newborns to sleep on their own because they make the baby feel as if he’s being held.
We actually use a U-shaped positioner for our babies now (see the picture above of Alexandre). The hospital gave it to us when we were discharged after our newborn’s lung surgery, since they used it to position and swaddle him in ICU. I’m guessing that since they’re safe in hospitals, they must be safe for the rest of us, right?
So make that 1 tip. We only have one truly SIDS-approved tip for helping our children become back sleepers. But we’re trying. It’s a priority for us that our babies sleep on their backs, and I think that by starting so early and avidly working at it, our babies become back sleepers fairly quickly.
Here are some other things you can do to prevent SIDS: Use a pacifier (with no string attached), breastfeed, use a fan, don’t smoke, and sleep near your baby, but not with your baby.
Another favorite tool of mine is the sleep sack. These are especially wonderful in the winter. I’ve got quite a collection of sleep sacks, mainly because I’m a big fat chicken. I really don’t want a blanket anywhere near my baby’s face. In the winter months, I swaddle my baby with a sleep sack on underneath. With my latest baby, a summer baby, I’ve been able to swaddle only, without the sleep sack. But in the next month, he’ll become too active to swaddle, so we’ll switch to sleep sacks without the swaddle blanket.
What do you do to prevent SIDS and make your babies sleep on their backs? I know first time mommies would appreciate your tips!
Here’s a great article on SIDS if you’re wanting more information. NPR: Rethinking SIDS.