Safe Sleep - Preparing Your Baby’s Space
Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Well our family has been through a lot of changes lately, including how and where everyone sleeps at night! Maya is 4 months old and is officially too big for her bassinet, so we are slowly starting to transition her to sleep with her big brother. We live in an old home with a big dormer room upstairs, and we've always planned on having the babies share a room. So we have big changes ahead but I am taking it slow and easing everyone into the transition!
I wanted to write about creating a safe sleep space for your baby, and how to keep your choice of sleeping arrangement safe. As a former NICU nurse, safe sleep was something we talked about often to parents. It is so important that baby’s have a safe space to sleep or to be put down when needed, but also that parents feel prepared and have realistic expectations of what baby sleep can look like for the first 6 months to a year. And let's be realistic, you just need a safe, prepared space to lay baby down if you need to take a breath or walk away for a minute (which I'm currently battling a little bit with night wakings, but that's a story for a different post!)
Now I want to clearly state that this post is not about getting babies to sleep through the night, or how to improve infant sleep. Getting babies to sleep is not my parenting strength! So you will never see me writing about that! And I think it’s great to own up to our strengths and weaknesses - baby sleep is my weakness and least favorite part of being a mom! Ha but I think it’s also important to note that we all handle sleep differently, so try not to get caught up in the comparison of how well your babies are “sleeping through the night”. Remember to always do what’s best for you and your family, and feel good about that! And keep your baby sleep expectations at a minimum, so you don’t get disappointed or stressed when you’re in a tough season or they are not sleeping perfectly. They are just little humans with needs, and some seasons are harder for them than others. As a mom it’s so important to learn to let go of any expectations of perfection we have for our babies and families - it puts so much pressure on ourselves, and creates an unhealthy mental state during an already tough season of mothering. Trust me, I know from experience! The pressure and feeling like I'm doing it "wrong" is what makes me the most stressed about baby sleep. When we are in a season where one of my babies isn't sleeping well, I tend to get really hard on myself and feel like I need to "fix" it... but that pressure makes me crazy, and it's self-imposed. So I hope this helps you to let go of whatever pressure you're putting on yourself right now.
Anyway, the point of this post is to talk about safe baby sleep spaces. So let’s get into that!
To recap the basics of ”safe sleep” as SIDS prevention, make sure your newborn - has a flat firm sleep surface, doesn’t wear hats to bed, has nothing else in their sleep space that is extra (fluffy blankets, stuffed animals, etc), and sleeps on their back before they can roll easily by themselves.
I also want to just comfort any anxious mamas out there - thinking about SIDS and your baby (especially my first time mamas) can cause a lot of anxiety. I want to assure you, there are risk factors for SIDS and you shouldn’t live in constant fear of it for your new baby. If you follow the recommendations for infant safe sleep, then rest easy mama. As a new mom, I would lay my first baby in his bassinet at night and just freak out in my head (I would go through a checklist or scenario of him rolling into the sides of the bassinet and getting stuck, or worry about him rolling his face into the crib sheet or whatever It was - I know that sounds crazy!) With my second baby, I am literally the opposite of that. I trust my baby and my mama instincts and have just learned to let go of those unnecessary fears.
Risk factors for SIDS include babies being around smoke or having a smoker in the home, prematurity, and underlying heart conditions (which is why your hospital or midwife does the cardiac screen on your newborn after they are born). I just want to encourage you as a mama to prepare your space, and then take a breath and trust that your baby is safe.
So this space can be a crib, bassinet, pack and play, floor bed, or anything flat. I highly recommend finding a swaddle sack or blanket that works for you to keep baby swaddled and calm, without putting any extra blankets in the crib. The Halo swaddle sacks have worked great for us, and we have tried several different ones! With Maya I haven't been as strict about keeping her arms in super tight to her chest in the swaddle, and I've allowed her a little more freedom of movement with her arms - and she sleeps great for the most part! Now that she is 4 months we love the sleeveless swaddle sacks for her (wearable blankets).
For Maya's bassinet in our room, we used a Pottery Barn bassinet that I LOVE because it's on wheels... if you have a one level living situation, I highly recommend a bassinet on wheels! I loved being able to push it around the house and lay her in her bassinet in the kitchen or playroom so that I could take care of my toddler, make dinner, etc. I'm so sad she's grown out of it - it happens so fast! We now use a pack and play by our bed since she needed more room to roll in her sleep.
Since we've been trying to transition her slowly into sleeping with her brother, I have a "floor bed" set up in their shared room. Their beds are set up near each other, with a night stand in between them. I have the floor bed away from walls (recommended by the AAP), and it's basically just her crib mattress set up on the floor. I plan to use this until she is really active and crawling, and all the way transitioned to sleeping well at night in their shared room. Then we will set up the crib! I personally used a floor bed setup when my first baby was about a year old, and he did really well with it! I'm partly using the floor bed because we just don't want to set up the crib yet, and partly because we really like the Montessori approach to parenting.
A part of preparing your baby’s space includes deciding where your baby will sleep. And that is something I want to touch on in this post. The WHO and AAP recommend “room sharing” with your baby for at least 6 months and even up to the first year. This is mostly so that mothers and caregivers can respond to their babies’ needs more quickly. Also young babies are safer sleeping near their moms because they learn to regulate their respiratory rate by being close to their mothers while they sleep. I think it's amazing that newborns can regulate their breathing based on the mother being close!
I share these recommendations because I think that room-sharing is important and really helpful for both mother and baby's sleep in those first few weeks/months. But I also know that it's not the only way, and babies CAN sleep safely in their own rooms from the very beginning. As long as you or your partner are willing to get up and respond to their cries so that they are fed appropriately in the night as a newborn, then that is perfectly safe! I also don't recommend extra monitors that monitor baby's heart rate/respiratory rate/O2 sat. Personally, and from hearing neonatologists that I worked with discuss these monitors with parents, I believe they create more anxiety than they actually help mamas. The amount of false alarms that they can create is enough to really create stress and hinder both mamas and babies sleep. But if you're someone that swears by these monitors, the most important thing is to do what works best for you!
So with my first baby, I rushed him out of our room and into his own nursery at about 3 months when I went back to work. Let me tell you, as a breastfeeding mom with a baby who was still night nursing (which is completely normal at this age, and honestly throughout the entire first year!), and also with the 4 month sleep regression right around the corner, this just made my life more challenging. Instead of just having baby right beside me in his bassinet, I went through those tough regressions while he was in another room - making it so much harder on me and my sleep. There were nights during his 4 month sleep regression that my husband and I would give up and just sleep in the nursery because he was waking so frequently. I was worn out, and with the encouragement and pressure of our pediatrician at the time (telling me that since my 6 month old wasn't sleeping 12 hours in his own room at night we had a "sleep problem") we decided to full on let him "cry it out"at 6 months... and I personally regret it. I decided to do things differently the second time around. My expectations of baby sleep were more realistic. I took the “sleeping through the night” pressure off of myself, and just have followed Maya’s cues and needs. And I have chosen to keep her in my room close to me for longer. And her sleep has been so much better than my first baby’s sleep. Just a reminder that we live in a sleep training "culture"... and babies sleeping 12 hours through the night every single night is not the biological norm for babies, and is not how MANY other countries experience or perceive "normal" baby sleep. Just a reminder for the anxious mom who's baby is still waking at night to feed or snuggle... your baby is actually very normal, you're not doing it right, and trust your instincts and do what's right for you and your baby. This time with our little ones is short and some day we will look back on these sleepless moments and laugh, and cry because we miss them.
I also want to put in a note about "bed-sharing", although I won't go into it too much because it's not something I have much experience with, or feel super comfortable with personally. But bed-sharing CAN be safe mamas, and if that is what works for you then great! Trust your mama instincts. But if you choose to bed-share, Le Leche League has a great resource for making bed-sharing SAFE which is really important. Le Leche League is a highly credible resource that I recommend all of my breastfeeding mamas check out. Find out more about SAFE BED-SHARING here!
My purpose of writing this post is to help you feel better as a mama, and to take the weight of anxiety or pressure off of you. Baby sleep can be tough, no matter how you do it. I want you to feel empowered and confident with what you choose for your baby and your family, and to be comforted in the safety of whatever sleep space you choose.
As I'm writing this post I am sipping my second cup of coffee after a long sleep-deprived night with my babies - so wherever you're at mamas, I'm right there with you. I hope you can rest easy (even in short increments) knowing that your baby is safe mamas.