The latest recommendations for avoiding SIDS have me steaming mad. Do these researchers have any kids?!
The recommendations now call for babies to sleep in the same room as their parents for the first year.
Let’s just think about that, shall we?
First of all, logistics. A child will be too big to sleep in a bassinet after 4 to 6 months (at best). So apparently people are moving a crib into their bedroom? Where it won’t fit, in many cases. Great! We’ve replaced a safe sleeping environment with a makeshift one.
Secondly, that little roommate is going to be woken up when parents come to bed later (after, you know, sweeping the floors, washing the dishes, doing laundry, and maybe collapsing to watch some TV or mutter a hello at their partner). Get the child back to sleep (good luck) and then the parents are going to inadvertently wake the child back up when the first parent gets up for work. Lovely. Now we have an overtired baby and parents who are even more tired than normal! They will be making much better safe-sleep decisions now.
And finally, let’s talk about sleep associations.
Pretty much all of the literature on how to get a child to sleep through the night can be summed up like this: the child must learn how to soothe himself back to sleep, without a parent rocking, singing, providing warm milk, etc.
This is not easy to do in the best of circumstances. It is unimaginably hard if the baby is going to be sleeping right next to the source of all those preferred ways of falling back asleep.
Babies, just like adults, have short sleep cycles in which they wake up a little every couple of hours. We’ve learned to go right back to sleep. Babies? Not so much. So it’s not as simple as getting the child to sleep and then walking away. It’s getting the child back to sleep, again and again.
We followed a method in which we would wait increasingly longer periods of time before going in to “rescue” Katie Beth. At first, it was just a minute, growing slowly to five minutes. The idea was to give her a chance to soothe herself. Slowly, she learned, and eventually we knew that if we waited five minutes, she would go back to sleep by herself unless something was actually wrong (like a poopy diaper).
Doing this would not have been possible if she had been in our room, standing up shrieking at us. She would not have tried to soothe herself at all if she could see us, right there, ignoring her. And if we had waited a full year before teaching her to soothe herself, I think it would have been much harder.
Night weaning would also be incredibly hard in this scenario. In theory, babies can go without night nursing when they are 4 to 6 months old. We finally weaned Katie Beth at about seven months, and we did it the way many people do: I sent in my spouse to soothe the baby when she woke up demanding milk. Sandy went in for several nights, rocking and singing to the baby for hours. Then Katie Beth recognized that there would be no milk and therefore no point waking up, and from then on she started sleeping through the night more and more.
If I’d known that I could reduce the chance of SIDS by keeping her in our room, I would have, but what a horrible year it would have been.