In the wake of last week’s Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play recall, our social feeds became flooded with endless comments on how the Rock ‘n Play or other NSFS (not-safe-for-sleep) infant positioners (docking pods and loungers, we’re looking at you) have become a standard sleep solution for tired parents.
And we hear you.
Safe sleep is important, but sleep is, too–and not surprisingly, those things can look very different in the early newborn days. Reading AAP and other safe sleep recommendations can seem entirely unattainable when your baby seems to have other plans, and you simply don’t have the bandwidth to fight it. We’re here to tell you safe sleep is attainable, for everyone. The colic baby, the reflux baby, and even the baby who thinks midnight is party time. To get real advice for these real situations, we tapped Jamie Engelman, a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Oh Baby Consulting, to give us solutions for our real-life sleep challenges.
In those hazy newborn days, there is a fine line between “lounging” and sleeping. What should be done if a baby is put in an infant lounger, resting pod or swing while awake, but falls asleep? Are any of these types of items generally safer than others?
I always recommend that parents keep an eye on “wake windows” (the amount of time a baby can tolerate being awake before needing their next sleep situation) and for newborns that is really only 45-60 minutes. Often times, that is only enough time for a feed, diaper change, maybe a little play time or tummy time, and then re-swaddle and back down for a nap. However, newborns are so sleepy, so it is understandable that they will fall asleep in “unsafe” sleeping situations from time to time, especially when parents need their arms free to be making dinner, caring for other children, or running to the bathroom. While infant loungers and swings are marketed for supervised awake time, there are still risks involved. Positional asphyxiation is a very real danger with swings and other apparatuses that keep baby at an incline – whether the baby is awake or asleep. Infant loungers are a bit safer as long as babies are supervised carefully while in them and always remain on their backs. To get around this, I usually recommend that families invest in a portable bassinet or play yard – both of which are also safe for sleep – to keep out in common areas of the home for the times they may need to put baby down and walk away briefly.
We’ve received endless comments from parents who have had babies with colic, reflux, and other issues and found the Rock ‘n Play a godsend for sleep. Is there ever a case for sleeping on an angle? If so, what items or sleep environments are safest? And on the contrary, if sleeping on an angle is never safe, what are your best tips for keeping fussy babies comfortable while sleeping?
I too hear parents who have touted the Rock ‘n Play as “lifesaving” for their babies with reflux. And I get it! When your babe is crying and visibly uncomfortable, it is so very tempting to just do whatever it takes to get them sleeping for longer stretches. However, research has shown that even babies with reflux do better when they are flat (not to mention how much safer it is). Here’s what they say – “Elevating the head of the infant’s crib is ineffective in reducing gastroesophageal reflux.”
When handling reflux, I always refer parents to their doctors/providers for appropriate diagnosis and support. However, parents can help ease the discomfort that comes along with reflux by doing things like feeding smaller amounts more frequently, burping baby ever couple of ounces (or upon switching breasts), holding baby upright for 20-30 minutes after a feeding, and using a pacifier (the sucking can help keep things down). As far as products go, there is really nothing I can recommend in good conscience that does not pose a risk for sleep.
Most parents have, at one point or another, come to the point where sleep has to be had–no matter what it takes. What words of advice or encouragement do you have for sleep-deprived parents who cannot figure out how to get on a healthy sleep routine?
While safe sleep is something I feel incredibly strongly about, I know sleep deprivation is no joke either. That is the exact reason why I do what I do! My best advice is to reach out for help. There are professionals out there who can help your baby sleep well and safely. Parenting is hard enough when we’re well-rested! Just like you might ask for help with breastfeeding, your taxes, or teaching your child piano, you can get guidance and support to help your children sleep well, too.
We know a flat, empty crib, bassinet or playard is the only safe place for sleep. But it’s also an environment that can look foreign to the warm and cozy womb their baby spent the last 9 months. (Insert the parental guilt here.) Do you have any tips or tricks on how to best comfort a newborn who doesn’t seem to like sleeping alone and/or in a crib/bassinet?
Stuffed animals, bumpers, blankets, and soft things may make a crib look warm and cozy, but as boring as it sounds, a firm, flat mattress is the best and safest option. However, to emulate the feeling of security and coziness of the womb, I absolutely recommend swaddling newborns. When done safely and correctly, newborns should not be able to wrestle themselves free and wake themselves up which promotes longer stretches of sleep. I can say pretty confidently that newborns likely don’t hate sleeping in their crib, they just have to get used to it. Using white noise is also a great tool to help soothe a fussy baby as it is also reminiscent of the womb.
Do you have any specific products you recommend to new parents?
I love Nested Bean Swaddles and frequently recommend their sleep sack and/or the Zipadee Zip (when transitioning out of the swaddle). A good white noise machine is also key – I don’t have a specific one that I always recommend, but the Hatch Baby Rest is a great one that can double as low light for nighttime feedings and a Toddler Clock for older kiddos.
Do you have any books or resources you’d recommend to expecting parents to start the foundation for good sleep from the start?
Building a good sleep foundation is key to not only surviving (and thriving during) the newborn phase but also to set babies up for good sleep skills throughout infancy and childhood. I talk to a lot of parents who have older infants and are at their rock bottom when it comes to sleep, so I encourage parents to start early & never get there! While there are lots of resources out there, parents have so much to read and sift through, so I have tried to make it as easy and straightforward as possible for them. I have a Newborn Guide on my website that is very comprehensive. It provides clear and relevant education on newborn sleep but also dives into strategies that parents can practice right away to help their little ones become great sleepers. I also offer on-one-one support for families with newborns to help them feel confident and competent during the first 12 weeks of their baby’s life.
Jamie is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Oh Baby Consulting where she helps exhausted families nationwide get the sleep they need. With a background in child development and infant mental health, she is constantly keeping up to date on the latest evolutions in the field which allows her to blend technical knowledge with empathy and compassion to tailor the support she provides.