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Back Sleeping Discussion At HMS Blog

A reader wrote in:

This Back to Sleep stuff drives me nuts.  I don't know why it is safer, but it can be really hard to get some babies to sleep on their backs.  I have two daughters, 3 and 2 1/2 weeks, who both refuse to sleep on their backs.  Both will sleep for 3 hours or so (and have since birth) if laid on their stomachs, and both could, from birth, lift up their heads enough to switch the cheek that is on the mattress.  When, as a brand new mom, I tried to get my oldest to sleep on her back, I would put her down, and immediately she would throw her little fists up in the air, scrunch up her face, and let that newborn "you're hurting me!" scream go.  After one tearful and sleepless night, my husband and I acquiesced to her desire to sleep on her stomach and have had no sleep problems with her since. 

So the question is, what do educators and parental counselors or whatever do with a baby like this?  According to both my mother and my mother-in-law, my husband, I, and our siblings were all this way.  I imagine that things like this are underrepresented in studies because we parents are often made to feel like bad parents when we can't get our children to do this.  It just frustrates me to read these things when I know that it is just not possible sometimes.

Pamela Pilch's reply from her pediatrician:

All this stuff is really hard because we are talking about statistics and not individual kids.  The way I think about it is like this:

All of us who were babies in the 60's, 70's and 80's slept on our bellies.  For those of us born in the 60's and 70's, our parents also never put us in car seats.  Car seats do save lives, because you will never know (heaven forbid) if you will get in a car crash.  "Back to Sleep" has also saved lives.  We now tell people to put their babies
down on their backs, because we can never know if their kid is going to be the one in a million who will have this faulty "wake up cause you don't have enough oxygen!" control center in their brain.  Of course there are known risk factors for SIDS...but even if you are a wealthy/non smoking/breastfeeding family, there are still SIDS cases in
those situations.

I never, ever, ever had a baby who slept on their back. Ever. I hate sleeping on my back. I feel like I'm suffocating, hence why I am up at 11PM, 3 AM, 4 AM blogging: because it is hard to lie on your stomach pregnant and sleep.

When my brothers were born in '83, '85, '87, and my son in '89, the trend was stomach sleeping. When my daughter was born in '93, the trend was side or back, but not stomach. I suppose that is still accurate. If you had the opportunity to take care of babies consistently for like 20 years, you will notice trends start out, get refuted as "bad mothering", and come back into the mainstream. I am not so stupid that I don't understand that there is more evidence supporting the "back to sleep" thing as opposed to what Grandma says versus what her granddaughter claims. But I also question if this research looks at parenting a baby as a whole.

I mentioned, I rarely had a child who sleeps on their back. But I also never had a baby who would allow me to put them down for the first year. Naps have always been in my arms. We don't even own a crib. I had two plus an Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper. They became stuffed animal bins. Not one child of mine allowed me to put them in a crib. I started co-sleeping with my first not because I wanted to take a hardline AP political stance, but because I had a colicky child who left me incredibly sleep deprived, and this was the only way to get any kind of sleep. If I do get 20 minutes with a baby napping out of my arms, they wake up when I am not in their vicinty, especially if I am not in the same room. So yes, occasionally, if the planets are aligned correctly, and if no one else in the house breathes too hard, I might be able to put my child down, and if the breezes are especially non-turbulent, maybe on their back.

I am wondering how prone to SIDS a baby is that spends 85% (at least) of their time if not in their mother's arms, someone's arms? This as opposed to a child who is in daycare, for example?

Pamela's last words on this entry:

I also think there is another issue here - not specifically brought up by my reader, but a concern to many parents.  What if parents are so sleep-deprived that they NEED their infant to sleep more so they don't go nuts?  The reason belly-sleeping was initiated in the first place was because babies DO sleep longer and more deeply that way.  It's just that babies are not necessarily supposed to sleep that long and deeply.  But parents are exhausted.  What do we do about that?

20 minutes every couple of weeks...

I am not militantly anti-back-sleeper or anything. I just think some of these hard fast rules about what good mothers do are very difficult to translate into practical terms. Personally, I think parenting decisions have to make sense. I don't believe Grandma's advice is always best becasue that is how they have been doing it for years. Breast over bottle, in my opinion, is more sensical-it is cheaper, less work, and stimulates a bond with the baby. If you have to work, it may not be more practical. Cloth diapering is cheaper, but it may be more work if you have 4 kids in diapers. Car seats always make sense, because first and foremost, the alternative is illegal. Past that, I am not even sure the subject needs to be pursued. If you have a term baby from a healthy pregnancy that is in a non-smoking home, with no history of SIDS that absolutely will not sleep on their backs-what does common sense say? Or more to the point, what are mothers going to do in that situation?


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I am laughing here because NOT ONE of my babies would sleep unless he or she was being held, usually by me. Well, the oldest would sometimes, but she was prone to gagging on her supplemental formula (I had serious breastfeeding problems that we didn't overcome until she was four months old and learned to breastfeed exclusively), so we had to hold her upright after bottle and burping. (Ever notice how breastfeed babies really don't need burping? Evidence of God's mercy, because burping is a pain, in my opinion.) My other two: Mama's arms only for the first few months. They like to smell their food source! I think because I came from a large family with dozens of grandchildren, nothing freaked me out and my philosophy always is: whatever makes baby happy makes mama happy. And it goes SO QUICKLY. We are praying for a fourth before Nature closes the book, and as tiring as it all is, the benefits FAR OUTWEIGH any costs.

Isn't there some caution against pregnant women sleeping on their backs after a certain point? Of course you'll look it up if you're unaware and concerned, but I think it has to do with pressing on some large blood vessel. Might be that safeguard making it hard for you to stay asleep if you do try to sleep on your back.

I don't know if they liked it but we were able to get our kids to sleep on their backs, when they were agreeable to sleeping at all. I actually went through a long phase years ago where that was my preferred sleeping position, but now that I am obese it seems to be harder for me to breathe well when lying that way.

I mean, it might be some physiological safeguard that wakes you up if you are pressing on the blood vessel or something.

You know, it never occurred to me that it was '83, '85, '87, and '89. I guess I always get my dates mixed up. Shame that there was no '91 or '97, then we could have it every odd number since me. Yeah, you're probably thinking "I'm talking about pregnancy and the miracle of life, and all my brother can think about is odd numbers in a sequence."

For the first month, all my kids have slept in their car seat carefully strapped in. The seat holds them slightly upright and it allows Mommy to get some sleep in her own bed. I am not comfortable sleeping in my bed with a newborn and I never have managed to breastfeed while laying down. I can sleep with an infant or small child in Daddy's recliner. My kids slept on their tummys even when they were newborn. They would squirm until I got them laying on my tummy (tummy to tummy) then they would go right to sleep. I could move them to the crib but only if I kept them on their tummy. Sometimes you do what works for your family and pray that god will bless it for good.

Actually, my kids would sleep in car seats, baby swings, bouncy seats, but everytime I put them down on their backs-"eh... eh.. waaaaaa" Then you should see me in the next room listening praying to God "pleae go back to sleep...please go back to sleep, please...God I'll do anything!" I never cursed until I had children, but that baby waking up thing has me punching a wall and muttering "F---!F---! F---!" under my breath before I go get the baby. Then of course I get the baby "Aw, you poor widdew baby, you don't sweep do you?"

After you try that about 3x's, they do not fall back to sleep and stay cranky children for the rest of the day. They get so overtired, they don't even go to sleep easy at night.

I heard Linda Smith, IBCLC, say many times that the biggest factor in SIDS cases is NOT co-sleeping/breastfeeding at night. My babies came home rolling over, not much can be done when they WANT to sleep on their bellies. I think we as mother need to trust our gut. A sleep deprived mother is not always a good mother. If baby sleeps a long stretch on their belly, so be it, especially if mom gets like 2 hours of sleep. How many babies have died/been injured by overtired frustrated mothers? I'm sure this is never taken into account in abuse cases, and not that I'm justifyin it, but we all get pretty unrational when we haven't slept in days.

I had babies sleeping in carseats too, and another trick I found was putting them in their snowsuits to go to bed, then they wouldn't wake up when I put them down in a cold bed. I have the same problem, my babies never seemed to want to sleep for very long... unless I did all this... but it never occured to me that maybe it was because they'd be more comfortable on their bellies. My nine-month old never naps for very long in the day-time, but sleeps quite well at night, only waking up every once in awhile to drink... but I co-sleep. It's just really frustrating though, to put the kid down, because he's finally asleep and so you can take the time to do something with the other kids and then 15-20 mins later he's already awake. Maybe I should try the belly sleeping? It IS okay when they are able to roll over anyway.

I remember I slept on my belly for the longest time, but I haven't in a long time... I would feel smothered by the pillow.

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