Sleepless in Charlotte: Why SIDS scares the pants off of me and the 5 steps I took to ease my fears
In the dead of the night, I wake from a restless sleep. It’s been at least 4.2 seconds since I last checked on my brand-new, fresh-out-of-the-womb baby. I don’t hear her breathing. She hasn’t made a sound.
I sit up straight, heart racing, and look towards the baby box on the floor next to the bed. I’m fearful of what I might find when I peek inside.
I summon my strength and look. There she is. Sleeping soundly. Beautifully, even. Her breathing is rhythmic and slow. My breathing instinctively falls in sync. I lie back and put my head against the pillow, waiting for the adrenaline rush to pass so I, too, can sleep. Well, at least until she wakes up hungry in 30 minutes…
What’s up with my midnight freak outs?
SIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome scares the pants off of me.
I’m a science-loving, data-driven person and I can’t stand that researchers still don’t know exactly why 3500 babies will suddenly, unexpectedly die in their sleep this year. I imagine what it must be like to be one of those parents who wakes to find their tiny infant cold and lifeless. Is all this imagining healthy? No. Can I help it? Also, no.
As a result of these less-than-healthy impulses, I’ve become a bit of a SIDS-risk-reduction junkie. And, I’ll be honest – feeling like I had some tools, some steps I could take has helped. Will the fear ever go away? Probably not. But, at least I have strategies that bring me some peace of mind.
Steps I took to reduce the risk of SIDS
#1: Ensure my baby has a safe sleep space
In our house, that meant a baby box. (Yes it’s made of cardboard. No that is not strange, it’s actually awesome. We didn’t use just any baby box – we used the Smitten Sleep System, of course. Smitten was designed by my brilliant friend, business partner, and infant safe-sleep expert, Amber Kroeker. The box itself isn’t magic (alas!). But, what it did was ensure that my baby was sleeping in the safest possible sleep environment. Smitten has rigid (not soft) walls, helping to prevent suffocation. The mattress is firm, not squishy, again, helping to prevent suffocation. The 100% cotton sheet is tightly fitted around the mattress so my baby couldn’t get tangled in it or pull it over her face. Most importantly, it was easy for us to move around the house so I was sure Winnie was sleeping safely at all times.
#2: Put my baby to sleep on her back
This is the single most important thing science says we can do to reduce the risk of SIDS. Back-sleeping helps keep baby’s face out of the pool of carbon dioxide that collects as she exhales at night. It also helps keep babies from suffocating in the mattress (like one might if she was sleeping on her belly).
#3: Keep the room cool
I had wicked hot flashes for several months postpartum, so this was a welcome step for me. We kept our room between 68-72 degrees. Yes, my husband slept in a hoodie and sweatpants under multiple blankets while I slept under barely a sheet. He took one for the team for awhile. A cool room helps babies rouse themselves more easily if they have breathing trouble while sleeping. The inability to wake up when they get in trouble is one of the reasons doctors and scientists think some babies experience SIDS.
#4: Offer a pacifier
Scientists don’t really understand why this works, yet. However, we do know that babies who are put to bed with a pacifier are less likely to be SIDS victims than babies who don’t go to sleep with a pacifier. Bizarrely, this effect persists even if the baby isn’t actually *using* the pacifier. Weird, I know. However, give me a data-driven reason to offer my kid a soothing tool? I’m in.
#5: Room share for peace of mind
So, this one is less about SIDS prevention and more about me getting more sleep. Having my little next to the bed meant that I could quickly check on her any time I got anxious. If she had been asleep in another room, I would have had to get out of bed, schlep to her crib-side, check on her, probably wake her up, and then schlep back to bed. Putting her baby box at my bedside meant I could quickly glance to see that she was ok (after putting on glasses, of course – I’m basically blind) without getting out of bed myself. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending room sharing for at least 6 months. I like to think I was just ahead of the curve (as opposed to being wildly anxious).
As the safety-guru, Amber, listed last week, there are other important steps for families to take that help reduce SIDS risk. These were the five that brought me the most peace of mind.
Being a parent is a wildly fun adventure. I’m also learning that being responsible for a little life is a rollercoaster of worry and love. Finding ways to ease my mind while also giving my daughter what she needs is an important part of my parenting journey. SIDS is some scary shit, but we are not as helpless against it as we might feel.