Before I begin this post, I feel I need to give you a warning & a disclaimer.
WARNING: This post contains details about my son's death that I haven't previously disclosed on this blog.
DISCLAIMER: What I am about to tell you is knowledge and suggestions based on my experience. Not every SIDS mom has had my same experience & their opinions may certainly differ. Also - I hope they will not feel judgement from me or anyone else as they read this. In addition- obviously you will make your own choices about your child's sleeping environment - however because of my experience, I will strongly suggest you change it if it's unsafe.
This post has been swirling in my mind & heart for some time. I finally have had the courage to write it down and share it.
The official cause of death on Link's death certificate says:
Manner of death: Could not be determined.
Immediate cause of death: Sudden unexplained infant death. (SUID)
The CDC website says "Sudden unexpected infant deaths are defined as deaths in infants less than 1 year of age that occur suddenly and unexpectedly, and whose cause of death are not immediately obvious prior to investigation. Each year in the United States, about 4,000 infants die suddenly of no immediately, obvious cause. About half of these Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID) are due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the leading cause of SUID and of all deaths among infants aged 1–12 months."
So - I thought I was knowledgeable enough about SIDS. I read What to Expect When You're Expecting and What to Expect the First Year. I got the Baby Center e-mails. I had three healthy, living daughters. But I had NO IDEA. No idea.
The thing about SIDS is that there IS no way to prevent it. True SIDS, where the infant is face-up, with no obstructions anywhere and they just "forget to breathe"... how can you prevent a death like that? I do not believe that was Link's situation, however. Not all, but most of the moms in my SIDS group found their children face down - or next to something so that they were "re-breathing" air & had a carbon monoxide-type effect on them.
Now - I have to say here that in my heart, I know that Link's mission here on earth was finished & he had greater plans on the other side. I know that in my heart. I know that if he didn't die in his sleep, he would have left the earth a different way. Even with that said, you'd better believe I am making changes with Noelle. Changes that I hope will keep her alive. I wanted to share them with you, hoping it will help someone & possibly save someone the heart-shattering loss we've experienced. I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME THESE THINGS!
First, yes, you should do everything the CDC says to do to "reduce the risk of SIDS." You can find that list HERE. My experience, however, was that the factors in Link's death didn't have to do with most of those things. He was always put on his back. He was on a firm sleep mattress with a fitted sheet. He wasn't dressed too warmly. No one smoked around him. He did not sleep in our bed. He used a binki. He was breastfed. He was immunized. However, with all the things I did right, there were some things I was not even aware of that I did wrong.
*DO NOT PUT THE MATTRESS AT AN ANGLE! I think with most of my other babies, at one time or another, I put some large blankets under the head of the mattress. This helped with drainage when they had colds and I've seen it recommended for acid reflux and colic. Link's crib mattress was always at an angle in the hospital, so I figured it was safe. But, here's the thing. When I found my baby boy, his head was at the bottom of the crib. I had placed him on his back at the top of the mattress - head at the top of the mattress. I believe he started rolling and the angle of the mattress facilitated the roll and that's how he got to the bottom of the crib. Also... with his head at the bottom of crib & the mattress at an angle, it was that much harder for him to lift his head. I just don't think he had the neck strength. IF you REALLY need to have the mattress at an angle, I would recommend The Guardian Sleeper. You can actually strap them into the crib with no way of rolling. Noelle has been using it for a couple of months. It takes some time to get used to, but gives me so much piece of mind!
*STOP SWADDLING ARMS WHEN THEY SHOW SIGNS OF ROLLING! After watching The Happiest Baby on the Block before having my first baby, I decided my babies were all going to be swaddled - and they loved it!! They always calmed right down and felt so secure. Link wasn't swaddled when he was in the hospital the first 2 months of his life, but after he got home, I found that he really loved it. At one point, I thought maybe he was getting too big to fully swaddle, so I tried to just swaddle his lower half. He really hated it. He didn't sleep as long or as soundly so I went back to fully swaddling him. Biggest mistake I've ever made in my life. He was fully swaddled when I found him and I cannot help but believe that if his arms were not swaddled, he would have been able to push up and gain the neck strength to get out of the situation. Nowhere does it say this on the CDC website. In fact, many sites recommend swaddling to REDUCE the risk of SIDS. I think you are safe to swaddle until they start rolling - no more than 2 months. Noelle fought me on this, too, & wouldn't sleep as good without being fully swaddled, but you know what? Sorry to be abrupt, but I'll take a fussy baby over a dead one any day!!
*BE VIGILANT AT NAP TIME! I know most people believe that babies usually die in their sleep at night, but many babies in our SIDS group, including Link, died during the day. So - while the CDC says to share a room with your baby until they outgrow the risk (which we do with Noelle), many times it happens during nap time when neither parent is in the room anyway! Right now, I always have a video monitor on her when she takes her naps & I carry that video monitor with me.
*NO BLANKETS OR BEDDING IN CRIB AT ALL & NO BUMPERS! This is one that is on the list for the CDC. Seriously, though. How many of us just plop our baby in an empty crib? It seems so cruel. Ireland LOVED having things near her face - her hands, her blanket... anything within reach. I bought this whole new crib set for Link - including a $60 bumper set. He was nowhere near the bumper when I found him. HOWEVER, there were blankets at the bottom of the crib. I put them there, thinking they were nowhere near his face - and he couldn't roll from his back to his tummy yet - so it shouldn't be a problem, right? WRONG. Many of us found our babies dead on their tummies and it was only the first or second time they had known of them rolling over. The blankets were not covering Link when I found him, but they were around him and, again, it leads me to believe the re-breathing theory. Just GET RID of the blankets and the bumpers. Trust me. It's not worth it. (For comfort purposes, again - the Guardian Sleeper would be safe, or get a sleep sack)
Another thing you didn't know (you might assume, but don't really understand the magnitude of) is the devastation that SUID or re-breathing or asphyxiation or whatever you want to call it, leaves behind. There is no way to fully describe it. And I will do everything in my power to stop it from happening again. I am not asking you to go buy a bunch of monitoring devices like many of us post-SIDS moms do, but hopefully these suggestions are straight-forward enough that you can follow through with them - even when it's hard.
Because let me tell you something...
it was never going to happen to me.