It’s easy to teach and preach the ideals of safe sleep. “Back to Sleep” every time, pacifier, no loose bedding, or stuffed animals… never in a car seat, a swing, a bouncer, in an adult bed, and never ever on the couch. But then you have a baby. A human baby with their own preferences and needs, being taken care of by parents who happen to be human too. Humans who need to sleep or sometimes just get a few things done, like prepare a meal, wash the puke and poop-stained load of laundry, or take a shower... That ideal of safe sleep can sometimes seem like an unreachable pedestal. And when that’s the case, we either feel guilty for not “doing it right” or we justify to ourselves why it is unnecessary to try to follow those guidelines… “What are the chances, really? …My baby can’t sleep that way and never will. …He only likes to sleep this way. …She spits up too much to sleep on her back. …He’s getting a flat head and they sleep better on their tummy anyway…” The list goes on.
Safe sleep is important to me. After my little man died of SIDS, I know too well the depths of despair that come with such a loss. I can’t bear the thought of ever having to bury another one of my children. That means I want to reduce their risk of death in EVERY possible scenario, but a safely sleeping baby is definitely a very high priority to me.
As much as I want to perfectly follow every safe sleep recommendation every time, with a new baby at home, I’m reminded that it is an ideal to work toward, a practice, and not an unbending checklist to complete. In those first weeks, there were many nights that I’d be up for hours during the night with a teeny-tiny newborn that just couldn’t seem to relax and sleep outside of Mama’s arms. I tried and tried, picking her up and laying her back down in the bassinet beside me repeatedly, and when my exhaustion had had enough, I caved. I snuggled her next to me in my bed and we both finally found the sleep that we so desperately needed. But the thing to remember, is that when we have to cave and compromise, we don’t have to throw all caution to the wind. When she ended up in my bed, I moved all the pillows well away from her and I only pulled my blankets up over my legs so they wouldn’t accidentally get moved too close to her face. I caved where I needed to in the moment and I mitigated the risk where I could… and I thought to myself, the bassinet isn’t working tonight, but we’ll keep practicing. Little by little she got more comfortable in her safest sleep environment, and here we are just a month later and she’s sleeping six hours at a time, on her back, and in the bassinet, and she even seems to sleep best there. It’s wasn’t without effort, practice, and a few failures on both of our parts, but it feels good to know that now she is able to sleep well in the place that is best for her.
Occasions for compromised sleep environments are everywhere. Know what they are and what makes them dangerous. Know which things are the riskiest, find ways to improve the environment even when it’s not perfect.
Don’t let the inability to follow safe sleep recommendations perfectly be the excuse to give them no heed. Be gentle with yourself when it doesn’t work and keep trying to make them the best that you possibly can.