A couple of weeks ago, I shared that the way we got our baby to sleep through the night was by bringing him to bed with us and then shared our story about how we came to make this important decision. Without a doubt the biggest concern I had about bringing my baby to bed with me was safety. We have all heard horror stories about parents rolling over onto their kids at night and suffocating them, right?

Right.

Unfortunately, this horror story is not made up like the ones about razor blades in Halloween candy or needles in the McDonald’s ball pit….you can’t go to snopes.com to find out that such a thing has never happened. Because it has. It happens.

Still, as I began to look into it more, I began to see holes in the statistics. Numbers given on various sites didn’t add up or were used in different ways. People seemed to use numbers to substantiate their claims with no indication of where these numbers came from. Even where the numbers seemed to come from real studies, they didn’t answer my questions. I think my husband had a good way of putting it. He compared the statistics about babies suffocating to statistics about car accidents. In this way, it is much easier to recognize that the numbers don’t tell the whole story: they don’t provide all the details. There are over 6 million car accidents every year and over 40 thousand people are killed in these accidents (these numbers came from here). These statistics do not stop us from driving our cars…but if we are smart, we do take some precautions to keep ourselves and those we love as safe as possible when on the road. We know that accidents are more likely to happen if the conditions are wet, icy, or foggy or if drugs and alcohol are involved. To keep ourselves and those we love safe, we try to avoid these weather conditions and do all we can to recognize and steer clear of drivers who may be under the influence of drugs and alcohol. We also wear seatbelts, buckle our kids into car seats, and look for cars with good crash test ratings. We still drive, we just do what we can to be safe about it.

That is how we feel about sleeping. No sleep situation is 100% safe. You may be tempted to argue that cribs are at least safer than a child sleeping in their parents beds…but suffocation happens in cribs, too. (In fact, this article–which seems to me to be one of the most well-researched articles I have read–cited studies which indicate that 60 infant deaths are attributed to suffocation in adult beds each year and 65 deaths attributed to suffocation in cribs each year…scroll down to “What about all these crib products?”) When it comes to safe sleeping, it is significant to note that cribs are being recalled every year and new safety standards are being established all the time. The crib we had for Josiah had drop-down sides–a feature that is no longer considered safe and has therefore been pulled from every baby furniture store in America. I actually feel I have more control over creating a safe environment for my baby in my own bed than I would if my baby slept in a crib.

In my last post in which I shared our “sleep story”, I mentioned that the topic of sleeping comes up often in cordial conversation when people see you have a little one. The responses I have had from various friends, family, and people in line at the grocery store have varied widely: and while I have felt that the most typical response is disapproval, I have also been encouraged in our decision from time to time. My mom has plenty of positive testimony about the long term security benefits provided by sleeping with your children, and my Greek professor in Seminary had several little tips and words of encouragement to provide. From my generation, I have only one friend I know of who intends to take the same route (for the record, I think that if more of our friends had kids or were planning to in the near future, this number would be higher). Although her and her husband have no children of their own yet, she was a Family Studies student in college: Based on her personal research (and this was something she looked in to a lot), she determined a long time ago that bringing her babies to bed with her would be the route she would take with her family. She tells me that there has never been a documented case of an infant dying in bed with a parent where it can be proven that one or more known risk factors was not present. It may very well be that drugs, alcohol, sleep medications, waterbeds, obesity or some other risk factor was involved in every single case. (Dr. Sears makes a similar argument here). That knowledge (or rather lack thereof) is very significant to me. Rather than being scared away by incomplete statistics from the sleeping arrangement that my instincts told me was best for my baby, we committed instead to making our family sleeping arrangement as safe as possible. Just as drunk driving and icy roads can be avoided for safer driving, I set out to uncover what might be avoided and what might be done for safer sleeping…

  • You shouldn’t sleep with your baby if you smoke currently or smoked while pregnant. We don’t smoke.
  • You shouldn’t sleep with your baby if you are obese. We aren’t.
  • You shouldn’t drink alcohol before sleeping with your baby. I haven’t had more than a few sips of wine since discovering I was pregnant with Josiah about three years ago as I breastfed Josiah right up until I got pregnant again. My husband likes to have a beer or two every once in a while…but he drinks for the flavor not the feeling and never goes to bed with so much as a buzz.
  • You should not do/take drugs before sleeping with your baby (This obviously includes illegal drugs, but also includes prescribed sleep medications and/or anything sold over-the-counter that might induce drowsiness). Neither my husband nor myself have taken anything more than Tums before bed since deciding to bring Josiah to bed with us.
  • You shouldn’t wear jewelry like necklaces which the baby could get caught in and should wear your hair up. Easy enough. I have also take care to sleep in  breathable cotton pajamas rather than anything real thick or satiny and don’t wear any tops that have ties or loose straps. My husband doesn’t even wear shirts most of the time, so no worries there…and while I have wondered if he shouldn’t tie up that chest hair somehow, we determined it was probably safe enough.
  • Precautions should be taken to avoid entrapment in headboards, footboards, and/or between the bed and other furniture or the wall. Our headboard is a piece of plywood covered in a layer of cotton batting and then an old white top sheet. It fits very snugly against the mattress and we felt it was about as safe as any alternative. We do not have a footboard and always felt that the nightstands were a safe distance from the bed and a height that posed no serious threat. In one of our many bedroom arrangements, we did have the bed pushed against the wall, but this was when Josiah was around 9 months old, quite mobile and we felt that this was a good arrangement for that stage of his development. In the future, we intend to stick with a similar style headboard, no footboard, and will have a bigger bed and a bigger bedroom with no need to push the bed up against a wall.
  • Whether in a crib or on a regular bed, an infant should sleep on a firm mattress. When shopping for  our mattress a few years ago, the guy at the store recommended that my husband have a firm mattress as well (I don’t really know why…but they have you lay on the bed and take measurements and seem to know what they are talking about). I preferred a softer mattress (and the test indicated that would be fine for me…but so would a firm one). We opted for a firm mattress with a nice pillow top thingy so that it felt soft but offered the support of the firm mattress. It turns out that that was a good way to go! We removed the pillowtop thingy and have slept on just the firm mattress since deciding to bring Josiah to bed with us.

  • Whether in a crib or on a regular bed, an infant should sleep on his or her back. Have you ever tried to breastfeed a baby on his tummy? Not placing a baby on their tummy just comes naturally when you breastfeed. (In fact, I think this is a God-designed safety mechanism: I bet co-sleeping, breastfeeding mothers were the only ones who didn’t put their babies to bed on their tummies in years past when that was recommended by pediatricians.) In addition to what came naturally, we actually used a sleep positioning wedge that we received as a gift as well. The slight elevation of his head actually made breastfeeding easier and we felt that the wedge and side supports helped to better establish his sleeping space in our bed.

  • Whether in a crib or on a regular bed, a baby should not be surrounded my an excess of blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals. Getting rid of our big comforter and extra pillows was one of the more substantial changes we made to our sleeping habits and our bedroom. But it is NOT difficult to tell why this is important and common sense dictated that it was necessary:

My husband, who prefers two pillows gave up his second one. We got rid of our comforter, decorative pillows, and top sheet and replaced them with individual light-weight throw blankets (you stay pretty warm without a lot of blankets with so many bodies in the bed). For a while, this was an eye-sore…but eventually I made coordinating “His, Hers, and Ours” Blankets that were more visually appealing.

Our bed is certainly not what you see in catalogs, sales flyers, and window displays with all the puffy layers and pretty pillows. But it is safe, comfortable, and cozy.

Maintaining this safety standard is more complicated when traveling and we have been more likely at these times to use a crib or travel bed.

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Some of the most useful information about sleeping with our baby that I discovered early on in my research came from websites advocating breastfeeding. Long before I thought about how my baby might sleep at night, I knew that I would breastfeed. Based on my experience, I feel that the decision to breastfeed my baby was also one of the best things I could have done to make our sleeping arrangement safe. But that is a story for another day…and something I plan to share more about next week.

If you are new to my “How I Got My Baby to Sleep Through the Night” Series, I would suggest that you START HERE.

You can also click here to read our “Sleep Story.”

In addition to sharing more thoughts on safety, suffocation, and how breastfeeding can make a difference, I’ll be sharing our thoughts and findings about other common concerns and questions including SIDS, Self-Soothing, Sleep Training, and Sex in the weeks to come.

So stay tuned 🙂

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