Safe Sleep: Merging Research With Real Life

“When you get home with baby, make sure you’re following the ABC’s of safe sleep for SIDS prevention.  Alone, on their Back, in their Crib.”  I have recited that sentence countless times in the last three years as an inpatient pediatric and postpartum nurse.  I usually add to the easy-to-remember ABC’s a few other sound suggestions to decrease SIDS risk factors:

  • No smoking around baby
  • Breastfeeding
  • Share your room not your bed
  • Firm mattress with a fitted sheet
  • Sleep sacks until baby can roll over
  • No toys/blankets in the sleep area
  • Pacifiers are great
  • And the most important rule of all: NO CO-SLEEPING IN THE SAME BED!!! (AKA bed-sharing)

These risk factors have been drilled into me, and we are audited frequently in the hospital to make absolutely certain we are doing everything we can to raise awareness and prevent SIDS. 

If you have never heard of SIDS before, allow me to enlighten you. SIDS is an acronym for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Sometimes referred to as Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID), it is the catch-all name for children under one year of age when an autopsy can find no other cause of death. 

When I was pregnant, I set up the nursery and gave my husband a lengthy in-service on the Safe Sleep campaign and explained how we were going to (and were NOT going to) put our baby to sleep.  Once our son was here, my idyllic nursery was torched after about 3 weeks, because, reality.  I never knew how desperate one will get for sleep until I had a baby!  After about three weeks, we had already resorted to putting him in the Mamaroo, tried the Pack n’ Play, moved the crib from the nursery to our room and back again, and we (gasp) co-slept. 

The night my husband volunteered to sleep with our son I cried myself to sleep in the guest bedroom. I felt like I was being too cowardly to risk SIDS to sleep with my baby, and at the same time I was paranoid that he’d become another statistic. How could I live with myself if I walked into the room the next morning to find my innocent, helpless child not breathing?

I couldn’t plead ignorance, and I couldn’t stand letting my baby cry…I was stuck. 

My husband’s rational candor was needed. He knew our son wasn’t going to sleep alone and suggested ways to make co-sleeping as safe as possible.   After some convincing and discussion on appropriate modifications to ensure the safest possible sleep for our newest family member, I had relented in the name of sanity.  When I say modifications, I mean that we placed the crib mattress between a wall and a full-size mattress on the floor in the living room.  My husband had only a fitted sheet, and we had our son swaddled in a sleep sack on his own mattress.  My husband laid his arm next to baby, and the pacifier was there to ensure oral stimulation. 

It worked.  Everyone got sleep, everyone was happier, and most importantly: we all lived.  As soon as possible (around 6-8 weeks), we got him back into his crib and only had to co-sleep when he was sick.

This was our reality, even though I am well educated on SIDS prevention.
This was our reality, even though I am well educated on SIDS prevention.

My son is two now, and I still can’t sleep with him without panic setting in about what could go wrong, but over those two years we have collected some hilarious stories to tell about our sleep situations!  There has been so much worry over such fleeting, temporary sleep issues, like when he decided to sleep with his face down, butt up in the air for about two months, or when the Pack n’ Play would rustle and wake him up any time he moved a hair, or when he gave up his pacifier at six months old. 

The point is, even though I knew everything the irrefutable evidence says to do, I had to take it with a grain of salt and make it work for our life…our real, messy, imperfect life!

Looking back, I think we’ve pretty much explored all avenues from the safest of safe sleep to co-sleeping during sickness and on vacations.  Being cognizant and respecting the inherent risk, you do your best with what you’ve got.  Most days you follow the rules, other days you are in survival mode.

What sleeping arrangements worked for you and your baby?


Nicole is full-time Mother-Baby Nurse at UIHC and full-time single momma to her 3 year old son, Griffin. She grew up in Iowa and graduated from the University of Iowa. She lived in Chicago for almost 4 years before moving back to Iowa City to start a family with her (now ex) husband. After struggling with infertility and undergoing In Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfers, she worked hard for the title of Mom. Feeling complete as a family of three, they donated their last remaining embryo to another couple, which has been an interesting and complex process. Nicole’s next conquest is to get her Lactation Certification and do some in-home consultation on the side. Her other passions are hiking, reading non-fiction science (or parenting) books, Sudoku, being mamarazzi/managing Griffin’s modelling hobby, visiting museums, and listening to podcasts. She describes herself as resilient, passionately curious, coffee-obsessed, science nerd.


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