For the last eight months of my life, I have been waking up every hour to every two hours with my daughter, who simply will not sleep.
I have been through raising three other children, so I am well aware of the complexities of getting a baby to sleep. And in fact, I really don’t expect a breastfeeding baby to sleep 12 straight hours at night — sometimes, a baby’s gotta eat, you know? Growth spurts, teething and good ol’ colds and viruses can all wreak havoc on my sleep game, I get that.
But seven to eight times a night was killing me. Something was obviously wrong and we were trapped in a vicious cycle of the baby waking up, me nursing her, falling asleep and then starting the whole process over again, with none of us sleeping well. Or, because she shares a room with her 2-year-old brother, I would rush right into the room at the slightest sound she would make because I was terrified she would wake him up. Basically, I was creating a monster.
I knew something needed to change, so the other day on a whim I put her down on her stomach for a nap. I watched her like a hawk, of course, but the result? She actually slept for almost three hours.
Thinking it was just a fluke, I tried putting her down for a nap the next day at the same time, changing nothing except I placed her on her back. Nope — she wasn’t having it. She woke up almost instantly. So I unswaddled her, and just as an experiment, placed her on her stomach again. A few butt pats later, she was out like a light.
It’s official. We have a stomach sleeper.
Now I find myself in a very difficult place, having finally stumbled upon that elusive and seemingly magical answer to how to get my baby to sleep, but at what price? I fully admit that I am terrified of sudden infant death syndrome. I’ve seen way too many babies close to my family and friends lost to SIDS, one of whom was almost the exact age as my daughter, which has made even more vigilant.
Am I scared of SIDS? You betcha.
Do I wake up every 10 minutes even if she’s asleep just to check on her? You betcha.
Does that mean I’m not going to put her on her stomach occasionally? Well, not exactly.
Look, I know the risks, but I also know my babies and sometimes you have to trust your instinct and do what is best for you and them, weighing the facts with your reality. What’s funny is that my other two daughters were also stomach sleepers. I remember distinctly switching them to sleep on their stomach around 4 or 5 months, which (probably not coincidentally) is when they also started sleeping through the night. Either I just wasn’t as worried back then or I wasn’t as educated as I am now.
Whatever the case was then, I’ve now reached a middle ground of sorts, alternating between laying my daughter down on her stomach for occasional naps, getting a video monitor so I can keep a more careful eye on her and letting her fuss for a few minutes before I pick her up she can learn to self-soothe a little bit better. I’ve also taken to putting her slightly more on her side, which seems to be more comfortable for her.
The research is pretty clear that stomach-sleeping infants have higher rates of SIDS. However, there are conflicting theories on the exact cause of SIDS and until we establish more definitive answers, I will be over here, just doing what parents do pretty much their entire lives: trying to balance my fear of what could happen with the very real need for sleep.