Safe Sleep vs No Sleep: It’s All About Balance

If you’d asked me four months ago whether I would ever let my baby sleep in bed with me, I would have vehemently shaken my head.  Who would allow a baby into an adults bed in the night? Don’t they know the risks?  Can you imagine what would happen!??  And yet, here we are, four months later with a sixteen week old baby firmly planted on the mattress every night.

We read the brochures over and over regarding putting baby ‘back to sleep’.  ‘I’ll never let my baby sleep any other way’, I thought and yet night after night we find ourselves putting him down on his side.

“We’ll only use sleeping bags, never a loose blanket – those things are suffocation risks”.  Guess what? He goes to bed nightly loosely wrapped in a muslin blanket which he loves to put up around his face and sometimes over it.

If you’re anything like pre-baby me, you’re probably thinking we’re recklessly endangering our baby’s life.  All the pre-baby literature you’re given, the talks from the midwife, the recommended practices confirm the best way to reduce SIDS risks is to put baby on a separate sleeping surface to you, in your room, with no loose blankets or covers.  Baby should be put down on their back and if they roll, we were advised to roll them gently back over until they could competently roll from front to back and vice versa (then it all goes out the window!).  THAT, we were informed, is safe sleep.

But what if safe sleep = no sleep?!

For the first few weeks of our sons existence we did our level best to follow these headings, terrified that if we strayed from one part, we would be endangering the very being we’re trying so hard to protect.  Night after night, I would sit upright to feed, petrified of dropping off mid-feed and rolling on to him, or worse, dropping him.  I would slowly transfer him into his bed, painstakingly slowly removing my body from his millimetre by millimetre whilst hunched in a torturous position half in and half out of the moses basket.  I would watch him for hours as he flung his arms outwards, waking himself up in shock before we re-started the teeth-pullingly painful process of getting him back to sleep and transferred into his own bed only to have to repeat the process twenty minutes later.  It was hideous.  We were zombies and all three of us weren’t sleeping.  We just couldn’t do it.  We were failing.

The first night he came in with us, I cried in the morning.  I was so ashamed that I’d ‘put my baby at risk’ all because I couldn’t cope with the sleeplessness.  I admitted it to no-one, my husband and I firmly agreeing that it would just be the once, and yet, the next night it happened again.  We practiced safe bedsharing and yet still we felt we were doing it wrong.

It took going to see a breast-feeding support worker to help me see that we were putting too much pressure on ourselves.  If I’m exhausted when I feed, there IS A chance that I’ll fall asleep onto my baby or drop him (which.. when he was in hospital for a bug and exhaustion was well and truly set in, I very nearly did lose him out the arm of a chair!).  She pointed out we were far better to PLAN to fall asleep.  By positioning myself in a way that allowed me to safely hold him should either of us drop off and practice laid-back breast feeding, we were able to relax a bit more.

Next, we reluctantly mentioned the bed-sharing to the health visitor.  We’ve had mixed dealings with our HV’s in terms of usefulness and tactfulness but this time she told us exactly what we needed, in that moment, to hear.  IT’S ABOUT BALANCE.

It’s about balancing the risks of us being exhausted vs the risks of non ‘safe-sleep’.

It’s about balancing him sleeping peacefully on his side vs him thrashing around on his back and screaming.

It’s about balancing him snoring next to me in bed (albeit a quilt and pillow removed one) vs him not sleeping at all in his next-to-me.

It’s about balancing our needs as a family in order to function vs his safety.

Every evening, we carefully go about a bedtime routine of change, feed and put down.  Our child sleeps on his side.  We’ve tried forcing him to sleep on his back but he hates it and as the doctor said “If he likes to sleep on his side, let him”.  Yes, it’s not QUITE as safe as sleeping on his back but… he. sleeps.  We wrap him in a muslin blanket which he often pulls around his face.  Yes, it’s loose.  But again, a tight blanket or his sleeping bag just makes him scream.  Yes, there’s a risk.  We’ve minimised it by using cellular or muslin blankets that are thin so he can still breathe through them should it go over his face.

Finally, we always put him down in his own bed.  At nearly four months, he’s still waking to feed every two/three hours (something we’re about to start trying to change!) and will take a substantial feed each time.  So, in the middle of the night, when we’re on the second or third feed and he’s unsettled, we’ll make the decision about whether or not he comes in with us.  It means I end up with little room, trying to share his muslin blanket (I never win!) BUT it gets us some settled sleep.  We follow all the guidelines for bed-sharing as outlined by the NHS wherever possible and it’s allowed us to function as a family without the guilt of feeling like we’re failing to protect our child.

Now we’re back from the madness of holidays and festivals and the unsettled routines of the summer, we’re going to make a real effort to crack him sleeping in his own bed AND FOR LONGER.  But I’ll freely admit that I’ll miss waking up to feel his feet pressed into my stomach for comfort and hearing his almost inaudible snores in the early hours.

Safe sleep is important.  But so is sanity.  And as with so many aspects of parenthood, we’re learning that it’s ALL about balance.

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3 Comments

  1. happywawa15
    12th September 2016 / 6:22 am

    This is such great advice. I forced my son to sleep on his back whenever in his cot until he was ten months. I was even told by a HV to do controlled crying to force him to learn how to sleep on his back. It suddenly dawned on me that he just wasn’t comfortable and we’ve had better sleeps ever since!

    • Devon Mama
      12th September 2016 / 6:34 am

      It’s rubbish what we put ourselves (and them!) through isn’t it!? My HV’s are definitely a mixed bag in terms of usefulness or support, sometimes they say things that just go right against how I want to parent! You’ve definitely got to listen to what your baby is trying to tell you – mine is currently trying to sleep on his front all the time, I’m not quite brave enough for that yet but then I was always put down on my stomach to sleep as that was the recommendation 30 years ago so… Good luck with the sleeping, long may it continue!

  2. happywawa15
    12th September 2016 / 6:22 am

    This is such great advice. I forced my son to sleep on his back whenever in his cot until he was ten months. I was even told by a HV to do controlled crying to force him to learn how to sleep on his back. It suddenly dawned on me that he just wasn’t comfortable and we’ve had better sleeps ever since!

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