Home > Death, Family, Parenting, Reflections, Safety > On SIDS and sleeplessness

On SIDS and sleeplessness

For four nights I have slept fitfully on the floor.

As a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old, I went through an ascetic period during which I cleared my room of all possessions save a radio I kept in the window. I hung my clothes in my closet and folded my bedding there, too.

The emptiness of my bedroom was my weapon against the oppressive, messy clutter of the rest of my mom’s house; in that one place, my place, I could feel the joy of emptiness. Sleeping on a hardwood floor was a small price to pay for it.

Eventually my mom forced me to keep a mattress in my room. The mattress was the gateway for having things in my room again. Soon enough, I was surrounded by furniture and knick-knacks, and that was fine, too. I took from my ascetic days a useful ability to fall asleep on almost any surface.

Now, as I try finding sleep in my older son’s room, it’s not physical discomfort that keeps me from restful slumber.

That honor goes to worry.

rock around the clockA few nights ago, my husband and I agreed that our three-month-old son had outgrown his bassinet. His rustling up against its edges was constantly awakening him. Worse, he’d begun flipping onto his belly, dangerous on a not-so-firm mattress in a not-so-sturdy bassinet.

We assembled his crib and gave him a couple of days to acclimate to it before laying him down for his first night’s sleep in it. On Wednesday night, we laid him down for his first night’s crib sleep.

I’d already spent days reading up on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. My son’s risk and protective factors were ingrained in my brain:

  • Male: 1.5 times more likely than a female to die of SIDS
  • Breastfed: Decreased risk
  • African American: Twice as likely as a Caucasian child to succumb to SIDS, whether from genetics or socioeconomic factors isn’t totally clear
  • Sleeps on back: Greatly decreased risk
  • Second child: Higher risk than a first child
  • Smoke-free environment: Decreased risk
  • 3 months old: In the highest risk window, between two and four months

Babies who share rooms with their parents also have a much lower incidence of SIDS, perhaps because the parents are more quickly able to pick up on subtle changes in breathing and sleepy shuffling.

The question suddenly and urgently in mind as my baby slumbered anew in his crib was how long babies should share a room with their parents. That little piece of information wasn’t explicitly stated in a single article I’d read.

I searched for it specifically and found the recommendation was one year. Not three months, but one entire year. It made sense the moment I read it, but I wish it had been spelled out all the same. The chronic sleep deprivation of new parenthood does not lend itself to consistently clear reasoning.

new to cribI nervously relayed the information to my husband, who offered to sleep on the floor next to the crib. I took up the post instead, my mind racing over sleep possibilities for the next nine months as I settled in. There’s no room for a full-sized crib in my bedroom. My bed barely fits in there.

I found a well rated mini-crib and bookmarked it to share with my husband. As my husband snored, I measured the corner the bassinet’s occupied to ensure it’s large enough for a mini-crib. It is I ordered the crib late the next evening, grumbling when I learned that two-day shipping doesn’t apply to the crib, which will arrive Tuesday.

So I lie here on the floor, drifting between wakeful wondering and nervous sleep, aware SIDS is extremely uncommon but unable to shake the horror of knowing parents daily lay their beloved babies down to sleep not knowing it’s the last time they’ll ever do so. The grief and unfairness of it staggers me. As I imagine those parents and their precious babies, I find myself filled with the same urge I get when I see someone who appears to be undergoing cancer treatment: to sweep them up in bear hugs so that they understand in a way far deeper than words how ferociously I am rooting for them.

I think of my manif-yes-to. Saying “yes” to the existence of bad things instead of railing against their very existence diminishes their power over me, lessening my exhausting drive to fight that which cannot be fought.

I can and will take every precaution within my power. I can and will continue struggling to embrace that precautionary steps alone won’t determine the outcome. This is is all I can do.

In my son’s waking moments, I hold him close and savor his chatter. I remind myself that fear of what-ifs deprives me of the glory of what is. Nothing that might happen then can change this sweet, amazing now.

When he is asleep, I will continue gazing at his belly for evidence it continues to rise and fall, and breathe a sigh of relief when I find it. I will gently roll him onto his back as often as I find he’s flipped onto his belly. I’ll only barely resist the urge to pick him up and hold him tight, just in case I don’t get another chance.

Chances are I will. Somehow, though, it’s easier to believe from the comfort of my bed than from the thinly carpeted floor of my sons’ room.

Did/do you worry about SIDS? How did/do you lessen that worry?
What techniques do you use to minimize worry about things not within your control?

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  1. July 13, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Oh, how I remember those days. And, they are just the beginning. As a young girl, C had several respiratory problems (asthma, croup, RSV, pneumonia), and I can’t count tne days I slept on the floor next to her to hear her breathing. With every cold, or tummy ache, or unanswered cough in the night from either of my children, my eyes flew open and my feet hit the ground. Though my girls are no longer small, some days I still stop in the early morning, crack their doors just a pinch and watch them breathe, and in the rhythmic rise and fall, I can see the faces of the babies I once held. That is motherhood. xo

    • July 16, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      This reminds me so much of the kids book I’ll Love You Forever. I think of that book when Li’l D protests he’s not a baby and I tell him, “You’ll always be my baby.” And he will. ♥

  2. July 13, 2014 at 9:36 am

    You are such a sweet, dedicated mother. Your child is a lucky one! But do relax and enjoy him. The journey goes by all too quickly.

    • July 16, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      Thank you. It’s so much easier by light of day, somehow! (I only wish there were more daylight to enjoy him, more days of the week.) I did get a good night’s sleep Monday and, wow, did that ever make a huge difference in how well I took things in stride.

  3. July 13, 2014 at 10:24 am

    It’s been such a long time now, but I can recall my feelings and actions so vividly. I learned a lot from my firstborn, including wishing I’d done some things differently. The second time around, I nursed her for a year and she did sleep in our bedroom until she slept through the night. It was easier (nighttime nursing and nappy changing), of course, but I think it was emotionally healthier for us all. We bonded quite naturally. Doing what felt right, what came naturally, instead of just following traditional, conventional, or recommended practices worked very well for our family. Love always overcomes our little worries and mishaps. May you all be well and happy!

    • July 16, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      Thank you for your well wishes. I’ve gotten a little sleep since I posted this and, wow, did it make a difference. It’s going to be important for me to emphasize sleep over most other activities for the time being.

      Li’l D slept in our bed briefly when he was very young, on a wedge pillow meant to help his reflux. I hadn’t read much yet about how terrible cosleeping is supposed to be, or how wedge pillows should be avoided, so it felt like the right thing to do. Obviously Li’l D was just fine, as he was moving into his crib–in his own bedroom–at just a few months old.

      • July 16, 2014 at 9:41 pm

        We always seem to do what seems best, don’t we? 🙂

  4. July 13, 2014 at 11:02 am

    I did worry about SIDS, but our babies slept in our room until they were about 2 or 3. Somewhere in the days of my first 2 children’s infancy the “authorities” changed their recommendation from tummy sleeping to back sleeping. My first made it through just fine as a tummy sleeper, so with my 2nd I was inclined to let her sleep the way she fell asleep, or however she turned herself. By the time the third one was here I was just grateful when he slept and didn’t even think about SIDS. I’m not sure if anyone really knows what causes SIDS, or if it’s always the same cause. There will always be worries that accompany motherhood, even when they’re grown up, you just do your best and pray for the rest.

  5. July 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I worried about everything when my kids were little. I had their crib in my room the first year of their lives. There are some things that we can’t totally control, and that sucks. All you can do is your best when it comes to prevention. Odds are that everything will be alright. 🙂 ❤

  6. July 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    You are doing everything you can to keep your little one safe. If you can find some reassurance in that, in its truth, perhaps you can let some of the worry go.

  7. July 13, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Oh, I feel you. The worry can really be frightening sometimes. I find myself still pushing food on my babies (now 13 months) as if they’re still teeny tiny preemies who need to gain weight. I wonder when we ever feel calm again. Also–what an adorable video! SO cute. What a love.

  8. July 14, 2014 at 6:48 am

    It’s interesting how things change … With my first 2 (girls), everyone placed babies on their stomachs to sleep. My girls were THE best sleepers I’ve ever seen. No one ever worried about SIDS in those days. Of course, the “craze” started before my son was born and, against my better judgment, I placed him on his side or back to sleep. He was THE worst sleeper of the three and much more tired/fussy on a daily basis. I doubt he slept 4 hours together the first year. When he started rolling onto his tummy, I dutifully turned him according to the ‘research’. I am so sorry for that now. Would that I had followed my very good instincts and placed him on his belly from the git-go! I have to wonder what difference that would have made in his life, overall. I think a good deal of difference.

    That said, you must do what YOUR motherly instincts tell you. Most of what I’ve read on SIDS has more to do with excessive blankets and improperly fitted sheets than sleeping on the tummy.

    One thing is for certain: your son will never miss out on the love and attention you give him. What a blessing! 😀
    -C

  9. July 14, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Oh yes, I did worry. My son had severe reflux so my worry about him not breathing or choking while he slept kept me up many a night. But like you said, it’s a delicate balance to try and let go of these paralyzing fears so that we can simply enjoy the pure moments of being a mom. Like most things in life, I try to live by the motto “choose love over fear”.

  10. July 14, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Ugh! I’m going through the same thing. My daughter has her own room with her own crib but has never slept in it accept for occasional 30 min naps here and there. She sleeps in a pack and play in my room and has grown out of the bassinet part. She will not sleep on any other surface except for my bed. So now, even though she has grown out of it, I put her to sleep there until she wakes up and then I put her in my bed and I hardly get any sleep because I’m constantly checking on her. I know she can’t sleep on the bassinet anymore and I’m not ready for her to sleep in her crib by herself in fear of SIDS. I feel I can keep and eye or ear better than her sleeping in her own crib. I know I’m going to have to succumb to her sleeping in my room and she will have to sleep in her own crib but still, I’m just not ready :(. I hate this feeling of constantly checking on her, but I will do so if this is what it takes. So I absolutely know where you are coming from. You are certainly not alone 🙂

  11. July 15, 2014 at 11:28 am

    My friend, you are a mother from your heart and soul. Do what you think and feel is best. Do what is in your heart. I know you worry, but truly they don’t know. There is so much out there, much of it conflicts; so do what you feel in your heart is best for the little one and the rest of your family too.

  12. July 15, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    My littlest is 6 weeks old now. He hated the bassinet so has been in his room in the cot for 3 weeks now. He sleeps better by himself in the peace and quiet of his own place. I don’t worry about SIDS, although I know know the things to avoid and do my best to make sure he is safe.
    Sometimes you just have to do your best, get on with things and know that everything is meant to be – and will be looked after.

  13. July 15, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    That has to be the one thing I didn’t worry about. I don’t know why. But I made up for it with worrying about other things. Like dust mites, and mold, and germy shopping carts, and aspirating. Oh, wait, that probably wasn’t helpful.

  14. July 16, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I used to check all the time to make sure they were still breathing, but don’t remember worrying about SIDS specifically. I think babies were still supposed to be on their tummies when my kids were little. It frightens me that we can do all the things we’re SUPPOSED to do, and it still might not be enough.

  15. nicciattfield
    July 17, 2014 at 1:34 am

    My daughter is 15 now, and I remember those days so clearly. Wake up, put your hand on baby’s chest, go back to sleep. Danny stayed in our room too, but I remember sleeping on the floor, for about two nights, in the room with the big cot too. The vulnerability babies must feel, being born so helplessly in the world always seems to be felt by mothers. When my daughter was a baby, I really knew the meaning of having my heart on my sleeve. Vaccinations were horrible too.

  16. July 20, 2014 at 5:16 am

    This always worried me, with each kid. And depending on who you ask, different things had different effects (co-sleeping being the biggest point of contention, from what I remember). Whenever one of my babies would have a longer nap than usual, I would become very anxious, so that instead of enjoying a slightly longer window of downtime I would go and check repeatedly to make sure they were okay!

  1. March 22, 2015 at 3:02 pm

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