Mother Nature can be cruel. Young babies sometimes die in their sleep, suddenly and for no apparent reason.
SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) can strike families regardless of their income, the level of care and supervision their children receive, and even a baby’s general state of health. Four out of five completely unexpected deaths of children under the age of 12 months are caused by SIDS, and the trauma this inflicts on parents is terrible to imagine.
Doctors will admit that they are basically stumped. The only reason SIDS has a name is so that it can be studied intelligently.
In fact, if an autopsy is unable to find a cause, a dead baby is usually said to have contracted SIDS. The creation of newer acronyms such as SUID (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death) is little more than an attempt to grapple with this problem by shuffling data around.
What is known is that crib death, another name for SIDS, usually happens while the baby is asleep and without parents hearing a thing. A number of risk factors, including secondhand tobacco smoke and genetics, have been identified. But no parent can allow themselves to dismiss the risk SIDS poses.
This article will provide a number of helpful tips for preventing SIDS, including the best baby sleeping positions. But first, before we examine the best position for baby to sleep in and which accessories promote a baby’s well-being and comfort best, let’s take a look in a more general way at how infants sleep and, hopefully, learn to understand their dreamland habits better.
The First Three Months: The “Fourth Trimester”
Directly after birth and for quite a while thereafter, your baby will literally not be able to understand most of what is going on around her, much less whether it is day or night. Exasperating as it is, she will be in no shape to be taught a sleeping routine.
During these trying weeks, her brain will be developing at an enormous pace. While her parents are likely to be pulling their hair out from the enforced insomnia, she’ll actually be sleeping a great deal, although not at predictable times or when convenient for others.
This is because she will literally be learning to interpret sounds, recognize visual images as objects, and move her limbs in a controlled manner. All of this takes a lot of brainwork, and the resulting exhaustion is likely to make her cranky at times.
While your newborn is struggling through this phase, infant sleep experts recommend that she should be allowed to sleep and wake as she chooses instead of trying to force her to fit into your lifestyle.
The Importance of Engaging With Your Baby
Whatever sleeping arrangements you and your partner decide on, though, don’t let the strain of the fourth trimester stop you from speaking to your baby, frequently looking at her from six to twelve inches away, and soothing her with physical contact. Not only is this kind of bonding essential to a child’s development, but the combination of stimulation and reassurance is one of the best ways to get a very young baby to fall asleep.
The good news is that this period is usually the most difficult time to be a parent – at least until the child turns two, at which time another significant developmental phase will get on your last nerve.
From Three to Twelve Months
During this time, your baby will still need around 15 hours of sleep per day, but starts to sleep more during the night and less during the day. Of course, this doesn’t imply an uninterrupted stretch of eight hours, especially if she decides it’s time for a feeding. But this transition should start happening automatically and gradually.
Every baby is different, though, so don’t get worked up if yours takes longer to adjust her sleep cycle. Natural development can only be encouraged, not forced. For every so-called expert who claims you should discipline a younger baby to sleep through the night, including by ignoring her when she cries, there are a dozen who will implore you to do the opposite.
That being said, from the time your child is about four months old you should be putting your baby to bed while she’s tired but not yet dozing, so that she can learn to fall asleep on her own. Gadgets such as nightlights and white noise generators may help her to achieve this transition.
More About Babies and Sleep
Establishing routines such as a fixed bedtime and a regular pattern of bathing and feeding beforehand becomes important from about four months onward. It’s simply pointless to try before this age – during this time their tummy rules them and parents will just have to cater to their whims. By the time they require fewer night feedings, though, they should be ready for a more regular sleep cycle and even prefer this kind of stability.
Trying to restrict nap time during the day, as some recommend, is definitely not the way to encourage them to sleep more at night. Nothing is more difficult than settling down an overtired baby, and keeping them awake for longer than they’re naturally able can harm them in a number of ways.
On the other side of the coin, a baby being quiet at night doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s asleep; many parents have checked in on their child to find her babbling to herself or crawling around her crib. In fact, this is a major developmental milestone. Once a baby is able to keep calm without a parent to soothe her, other skills such as her first words often follow soon after.
Finally, many people aren’t sure whether or not babies dream. Although we have no way of knowing what their dreams could be like, brainwave measurements clearly indicate that they do dream, and much more than adults do.
We spend only about a fifth of our time asleep dreaming; for babies under a year, this figure can be as high as 50%. So, if your baby twitches in her crib or her eyes move under the lids, you needn’t assume that she’s in distress. She’s probably just spending some quality time with Nod.
Tips for Avoiding SIDS That Anyone Can Understand
Although pediatricians still aren’t sure about the exact causes of SIDS, all of them agree that a safe sleeping position is of great importance to make sure your baby can breathe freely. This has led them to make a number of simple recommendations, some obvious and some less so:
- Babies’ sleeping surfaces, such as crib mattresses, should be firm; neither hard nor too soft. This may seem callous to us, but it’s actually quite comfortable for a child who still weighs only a few pounds.
- They should never be allowed to sleep on a soft surface like a couch or pillow, even with an adult in the same room.
- Avoid placing extra bedding, including stuffed toys, blankets, and pillows in the crib. Since a baby might not be able to move, even to turn its face away when suffocating, all of these can be dangerous.
- The sleeping environment itself should be healthy and comfortable. Too-warm blankets or pajamas can lead to your baby developing hyperthermia, becoming dangerously overheated, whereas a child-safe humidifier can help avoid dry air symptoms.
- This shouldn’t even need to be said, but neither parent should be abusing drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. SIDS deaths spike on New Year’s Eve when more people are drinking, while secondhand smoking shows a clear link to SIDS.
- Babies should sleep in the same room as their parents, especially during their first six months of life. This alone makes your baby much safer. After six months, baby monitors can be used instead.
- However, babies should not sleep in the same beds as parents. Many parents view this as an essential part of bonding with their children and, for centuries, it used to be the norm. However, adult beds are not designed for babies; accidental suffocation and falls are a real risk.
- The effectiveness of sleep safety devices like wedges and position monitors is questionable. Pacifiers, on the other hand, may both calm the baby and keep her safer.
The Only Safe Sleeping Position for Babies
When your little bundle of joy finally closes her eyes after half an hour of screaming the neighbors awake, you might be tempted to just let her rest in whatever pose she happens to be sprawled in. This, however, would be entirely wrong.
The reason for this is that, until their motor skills are fully developed, their nose and mouth might become blocked by their bedding, and they won’t be able to either breathe, twist away, or cry for help. This can lead to brain damage, and is the probable explanation for most cases of sudden infant death syndrome:
It’s a good idea to slightly restrain the baby with a tight sheet so they can’t roll over too easily. Carriers, strollers, and car seats, too, are safe for babies to sleep in, as they will still be lying on their backs, even if the head is elevated.
Also, the back-only rule applies only to sleep at night or when not within your field of vision. It’s okay for your baby to rest on her side; the most important thing is that she doesn’t roll over and end up face-down on a soft, airless surface. You may, of course, put her on her stomach when playing with her, and in fact this “tummy time” is important to her physical development.