The boy who wouldn’t go back to sleep
It was 3 a.m. as I stood in the baby’s room, rocking him in my arms back to sleep for potentially the 10th time that night.
I was tired. Exhausted, in fact. Nearly half asleep myself, as I swayed from one foot to the other and back again in an effort to lull Parker back to dreamland.
He seemed sound asleep in my arms, so I gently laid him down on his back in a crib barren of any blankets. Those are the rules: “Back to sleep,” as all the experts say, so as to avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Gently I removed my hands from under his body, simultaneously saying a prayer to God – and any other higher being that would listen – to “please, just let this kid stay asleep.”
He fidgeted, did a half-roll, fidgeted again and then thrashed. Then came the cries.
Not this time, Dad. Try again.
My son is not a back sleeper, I’ve come to learn. For the beginning of his life, he has been sleeping in a rocker-bassinet that keeps him somewhat elevated and secure. Now that he’s beginning to outgrow the rocker, we’ve been trying (for some time now) to make the transition to crib sleeping.
But I’m telling you, this child will not sleep flat on his back. Who can blame him? I can’t sleep flat on my back, and neither does my wife. Maybe it causes him indigestion, maybe he’s too used to the incline or maybe he’s just plain uncomfortable in that position.
Regardless of the reason, what’s a parent to do when all the “rules” say your baby is supposed to sleep on his back, but your child doesn’t want to follow suit?
In my desperation to get back to bed myself, I thought back to a conversation I had with my mother the day before. When describing our struggles, she sympathized but noted how many rules had changed since she was a new parent.
“When you were kids, I used to prop you and your sister on your side and roll up a receiving blanket to support your back. Or sometimes you just slept on your tummies. But now that’s all frowned upon.”
She’s right. Today’s new parents are instilled with the fear of SIDS long before the child is even born. To minimize the risk of SIDS or suffocation, parents are instructed to keep the crib clear of anything besides the mattress and fitted sheet, at least in the first year. And of course, babies always should be laid on their backs to sleep.
Hence my conundrum with the boy who wouldn’t go “back to sleep.” Despite my own sleep-deprived state at the time, I rationalized a solution with myself that night that I had to try something new.
I laid him down once again, this time on his side, and placed a rolled blanket for support behind his back. I lifted my arms and held my breath in anticipation.
Nothing. No fidgeting, no rolling and no thrashing. Just deep, heavy breaths consistent with a baby fast asleep.
My Mom is a genius.
Despite Parker’s deep snooze, I sat there the rest of the night anyway to ensure he didn’t roll flat on his face or get tangled up in the blanket. But since then, he’s been sleeping very contently on his side each night. From the way he’s starting to roll now, he’ll be able to choose his own sleeping position in the very near future anyway.
I respect all the rules pediatricians and experts provide for newborns. They’re in place for a reason: to keep your baby healthy and safe. To a certain extent, Heather and I try to follow them and our doctor’s recommendations as closely as possible.
But does breaking one or two for the sake of compromise make you a bad parent? I hope not.
Sometimes, parents have to adapt and find their own rules, ones that work for their baby. As a parent, you know your baby better than anyone.
In Parker’s case, the kid was clearly uncomfortable sleeping on his back and much happier on his side. We may still get up a half-dozen times a night to check on him and make sure his positioning and breathing are OK, but at least he’s content and comfortable. I don’t think Philadelphia Child Services will come hunting me down for that.
We’re learning to trust our instincts as parents, which is hard in the first few months, but we’re slowly building that confidence. Just like any other parent, we learn and adapt as we go.
Beardsley, a native of Loyalsock Township, is a former Sun-Gazette reporter. His column is published on the third Sunday of each month.
He may be reached at email@example.com.