Earlier today a college friend of mine posed a question on Facebook about whether or not people let their babies sleep on their bellies. She did it with her second child and is now considering it with her third, who was born a month ago. Since no one else had commented yet, I did. I said that I was always very paranoid about it, and the only time Jacob slept on his belly was when he was laying on Craig or me. That's probably why he slept so soundly on us all the time, but I felt OK about that only because we were right there and perhaps I subconsciously hoped that he'd be somehow stimulated enough by our mere presence that he'd just keep breathing.
In case you've been living in a cave or haven't raised a child in 20 or so years, they now recommend that you put your baby to sleep on their back because it reduces the risk of SIDS. SIDS was probably one of my top three fears as a new mother, and I'm sure it will be again. There's nothing more torturous than the thought of losing your precious new baby to something so unavoidable (assuming you're following the rules) and without real cause. I feel horrible for people whose babies accidentally suffocate from blankets and stuff, because the guilt must be terrible, but in a case like that it was avoidable so it's more frustrating than anything. I feel worse for the people whose babies just pass away without warning, without cause. It absolutely paralyzes me with fear to even think about it. I was so nuts about it the first time around that I was constantly rolling Jacob back over onto his back once he learned to flip on his own, even though conventional wisdom says that they should be fine once they can roll themselves.
Anyway, much to my surprise, a number of people came out and proudly said that they do let their babies sleep on their bellies. I'm not trying to be judgy, because the whole judgy mom thing in the blog world can be so infuriating. But I tend to think it's more infuriating when it's a six-of-one/half-dozen-of-the-other situation like breastfeeding vs. formula or homemade food vs. store-bought. Neither of those things has life-threatening implications, so who cares which you choose? Whether you choose one or the other, your kid is still going to be fine. And while I understand that the vast majority of belly sleeping babies end up fine, there are plenty of statistics that show that some don't.
In this day and age, you often hear people say, "We didn't do _______ back in the day, and we all turned out fine." And in a lot of cases, I agree. We do tend to be overly careful now. But there are some things where I want to come back with, "Well, there are a lot of kids that aren't fine because of _____." One example of this is car seats. We had crappy car seats (if we had one at all) years ago. We sat in the front seat when we were little, and didn't stay in boosters until we were nearly five feet tall. And yes, I'm here and you're here. But how many of our peers are not? How many kids were killed in car accidents due to inadequate restraints? We know better now so we try to do better with our kids.
Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I find it so hard to believe that people would knowingly risk their child's safety like that. Again, I know the odds are small, but I could never live with myself if I knowingly let my child sleep like that and something happened. Sleep is so important, especially for babies with colic or other ailments, but is it worth the risk, knowing that the statistics are out there? One commenter even said, "God is in control." Obviously that's the case, and I suppose if it's my baby's time, nothing is going to change that. However, in my opinion that's sort of like those people that won't go to doctors or medicate their kids because they're going to pray until they're healed. God provided doctors with the skills to save people, so why couldn't they be considered the answer to prayer? There's also the story about someone trapped in a boat, praying to God to save them, and they kept telling passing boaters that they didn't need their help because God would save them...even though God was the one that sent the boaters to save them! Obviously this is a much less risky issue than the people praying for healing, but if the research is out there and we know there are ways to reduce the risk of SIDS, why fly in the face of that and trust that our judgment is better just because God's in control? I'd rather do everything in my power to protect my child and pray God would honor that effort, than take my chances and possibly regret it later.
Again, I don't want to judge because every parent needs to do what they're comfortable with, but when the consequences are so huge, I have a hard time understanding the riskier choice. I feel the same way about women that eat cold cuts during pregnancy. No, the odds of getting listeria aren't high, but if you do get it, it can do a ton of damage. Why take that risk if the answer is something as simple as avoiding it? I know that everyone says how much better babies sleep like that, and God knows at times you can be desperate for sleep. But just because the baby likes it doesn't mean it's good for them. After all, Jacob would like to eat all of his Halloween candy, too, but that doesn't mean he should.
Perhaps I was extra worried because Jacob had respiratory problems pretty much from the beginning and I was scared enough by those, let alone by belly sleeping. Between the fluid in his lungs when he was born and his bout of bronchiolitis when he was a couple months old, he didn't need anything else impeding his ability to breathe. Add in that a professional athlete lost his baby who was about Jacob's same age when he was just a few months old (if that), and I was probably about as paranoid as one could be. So maybe that clouds my judgment. But no amount of sleep is worth risking my baby's life, and the guilt I'd feel for the rest of my life would give me far more sleepless nights anyway.
Again, parents need to do what's best for them AND their baby, but before all these confident "I slept that way and I'm still here" folks put their baby down on their belly, I sure hope they've read the research and know the facts.
Sorry, just needed to get that off my chest.