Updated: Jan 20
The story of how I unknowingly risked my first child’s life doing everything wrong, and tips on how you can avoid those same mistakes.
In the summer of 2018 I found out I was pregnant with my second child. Though still nervous, it wasn't the same type that came with being a first time parent. The knowledge I had gained from already being a parent and learning all about evidence based safety left me feeling far more confident.
What changed? A few hours after giving birth my second son was brought to the
NICU for hypoglycemia and stayed there for 5 days. While this is short compared to the majority of babies who have a stay in the NICU, this threw a curveball into what I imagined would be the beginning of postpartum life with a second child. The exhaustion and hormones had me unraveled.
Once he got home we had to work on nursing difficulties after almost exclusive bottle feeding in the NICU, which was also a new challenge compared to my first. What we didn’t know yet, was that many of our problems with feeding were due to his undiagnosed reflux.
He cried for much of the day, everyday for weeks, which left me holding him while bouncing on an exercise ball while a 2 year old ran around us.
Because we did not get a diagnosis of silent reflux until around eight weeks, we spent that time in limbo about what to do.. Regardless, we kept trudging on in survival mode and still following safe sleep.
After the diagnosis a lot changed for the better. I knew that I would have to hold him upright after feeds for about 20+ minutes as the upright position is proven to help with reflux. We found he hated sitting devices such as his car seat because the semi seated position pushes their legs up against their stomach, then causing the stomach acid to travel up the esophagus. After changing dosages and meds a few times we were able to find one which worked well until he finally outgrew the reflux around 6 months old when he was able to sit up on his own and reposition himself as needed.
Why am I sharing all this background information? To show you that we go through a lot of the same hardships. While none of our experiences can be entirely the same, nor do we experience them in the same way, we each have our own types of struggles.
No one enjoys hearing their child cry for any reason or any duration. There is a reason why we hate it, not being able to stop your baby from crying despite trying your hardest is its own form of torture. I had to put him down in a safe sleep space many times to just do basic tasks, not to mention take care of my toddler or else I would have two screaming children.
The NICU required us to watch a video on PURPLE crying and Shaken Baby Syndrome. In the video it very clearly shared that it is safer to place your baby down in a safe sleep space even when crying than risk injuring them due to mental and physical exhaustion.
Despite knowing he was safe, it made me feel awful, but I’d rather feel awful for that short period of time than risk his safety.
At my 6 week visit I knew I had to ask my doctor to increase my postpartum depression medication, which for myself manifested in anxiety symptoms. I was so grateful that I had been diagnosed with my first child (even though it wasn’t until he was 10 months old) and knew the signs, as well as when to ask for help.
It may have been much easier to not follow safe sleep with all of the added stress that came with all of the above. Why didn’t I give in? Simply put, because I knew better. You see, I had already lucked out before with my first son before I learned about safe sleep.
My first son was born in 2017, and although I read up on what felt like everything I was unaware of many dangers. The books and articles really don’t break it down for you. Oftentimes it is just the basics (which don’t touch upon how you know a safe sleep space is safe or risks of positional asphyxiation). Sure, the hospital provided me with a one page checklist on safe sleep to read and sign…3 hours after an exhausting, long labor when I didn’t comprehend any of the information.
We were given a Rock ‘n Play inclined sleeper from our registry. I was one of the many who thought “If it's sold it must be tested for safety”. I wasn’t aware of the tips and tricks on how to get a baby to sleep safely in their bassinet yet, once he started sleeping in the Rock ‘n Play I stuck with it until a kind individual read about me using about the sleeper in a due date group and cared enough about my son’s safety to send me a link to Safe Infant Sleep - Evidence Based Support Group. After joining and reading the information it took me a few weeks to muster up the courage to stop using it, but at a well visit our pediatrician reiterated the same message, “Get him out of that death trap”.
It wasn’t easy. He had gotten into the habit and as we say often, no one likes change. It was one of my first lessons in having to make the right choices to keep my child safe even if they may not like it at the moment, making it even harder to stay consistent.
Some of the tips that helped us were:
Wearing the sheet or sleep sack to make the item smell like me for added comfort.
White noise to help soothe the baby. Not only does it sound like the womb, but can act as a barrier to prevent any noises you make during sleep from waking the baby up.
Placing a heating pad down in the sleep space and removing before placing the baby down (ensure its not too warm). This helps if you are transferring them while they are asleep since your warm touch to a cold bassinet can wake them up.
I will never forget that I was one of the lucky ones. I’m reminded every time I scroll back to his baby photos from that time, and I’m reminded of the luck that is being able to still see and hold him each day unlike the parents who lost their babies due to products like inclined sleepers, co sleepers, nests, and many other unsafe sleep spaces.
That wasn’t the only unsafe thing I had done before I knew better, but hearing the stories of the many loss parents I have encountered over the years has shown me it was merely luck I have to thank. Each time I did any of those things I was too ignorant to know how it increased the risk of my child dying, because all it takes is just one time and less than a few minutes, even if you’re right there.
That is why I followed the recommendations of holding upright after feeding for 20+ minutes and then laying him down safely on his back in a safe sleep space.
That is why I would swing my legs when sitting on the side of the bed to keep myself awake. It is why I would set an alarm on my phone to ensure if I was holding him in bed that I would wake up if I dozed off.
I knew that this exhausting phase was just that, a phase, unlike death which is permanent.
Not everyone will make the same choices to follow safe sleep as I have and yes, it is often hard knowing it is something I cannot change. It is hard because I care about you as well as your babies. It is hard because there is no way to know if you will be as lucky as I have been.
All I can do, all anyone can do, is share the information on how to reduce the risk as much as possible. After that we know it’s up to you to make a choice.
I hope you truly know this information, while blunt, doesn’t come from a place of righteousness. It isn’t founded upon judgment or wanting to shame.I know many see unsolicited advice as insulting, but I see it as what likely saved my child’s life.
I understand us advocates may not always come off as kind via text online when all you have is a string of words and you can’t hear the tone of my voice or the tears in my eyes, but I want you to know it’s not the intention. I want to apologize if it ever has, or will make you feel that way.
Where it actually comes from is a place of love but also grief. What may be mistaken for ridicule, is actually the passion to educate because I had not been educated.
What may seem like insensitivity to the challenges of others comes from knowing that when I visit my best friend I will only get to hug two of her three children, because someone else’s unsafe sleep choice took her second child from this earth.
While there are few absolutes in life we can still do our part to reduce the risk as much as possible. I don’t want to experience the pain I know loss parents go through daily, and I don’t want you to ever feel that pain either.
In short, I was lucky with my first born, but I follow safe sleep despite the challenges because you never know the moment that luck will run out.