Advantages and Disadvantages of Sleep Sacks

 

In recent years, there has been a great deal of discussion about baby blankets and the risks they pose, particularly related to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Research has shown that babies who sleep with blankets in their cribs are five times more likely to die from SIDS than those who sleep without loose blankets.

Enter the sleep sack. Sleep sacks are essentially wearable blankets. The top part fits over baby and looks somewhat like a vest. Baby’s head and arms are left free and uncovered. The bottom part is a sack, much like a sleeping bag, which zips up in the front.

When a baby is laid down in a sleep sack, she is free to move around, kick, wiggle, and even roll over without losing her covers or risking them covering her face. Because of this, babies in sleep sacks are less likely to die of SIDS than babies covered with blankets (and especially loose blankets).

In addition to a lower risk of SIDS, sleep sacks offer these advantages:

  • You can make sure your baby stays warm without becoming too warm. Babies can’t kick a sleep sack off like they can with blankets. This also keeps tired parents from having to constantly check to make sure the baby is still covered and warm.
  • Baby has more freedom of movement. While some babies like swaddling, others don’t. While swaddling is necessary if you’re going to use blankets for an infant, it restricts movement. Sleep sacks eliminate the need for swaddling, allowing baby to move about as she needs to.
  • Sleep sacks are easy to put on without waking baby. They slip on right over baby’s clothes or pajamas and zip up the front.
  • Convenient. When you’re packing, a sleep sack folds right up and takes up about as much room as a baby outfit.

Sleep sacks do have one disadvantage. As mentioned before, their shape and the fact that they zip up doesn’t allow for swaddling. Many believe that babies like swaddling because it replicates the security of being in the womb. With that said, though, most babies get used to sleep sacks fairly quickly, especially if they’re introduced to them young. A little less swaddling just might be an acceptable price to pay for a significantly reduced risk of SIDS.

Reducing the Risk of SIDS

 

By now, most of us already know that we’re supposed to lay our babies down to sleep on their backs. That isn’t exactly news. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been saying that loud and clear since 1994’s Back to Sleep program. Even before then, most pediatricians were recommending back sleep to new parents.

Between now and then, researchers have discovered many risk factors which contribute to the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Despite a significant drop, SIDS is still the most common cause of death amongst babies who have passed the newborn stage. SIDS is rare in the first month. Two to three month old babies are the greatest risk for SIDS.

Many of the discoveries regarding SIDS risk factors have had to do with the baby’s sleep environment. The APA has made a number of recommendations regarding safe sleep environments for babies. These include:

  • Sleeping in the same room with parents, but not the same bed. This may rub some proponents of attachment parenting the wrong way, but co-sleeping (sharing the bed with parents), especially when parents have a soft mattress, has been shown to be a contributing factor to SIDS. Have your baby sleep in a crib in the same room instead. This allows you to react to baby quickly without putting her at risk.
  • Use a firm mattress or sleep surface for baby. Whether baby sleeps in a crib, a playpen, or a bassinette, the sleeping surface should be firm.
  • Keep toys, pillows, and other soft objects out of baby’s sleep area. The only thing in the crib should be the baby.
  • Use a fitted sheet, with no loose sheets or blankets. A blanket is OK, as long as it is firmly tucked in or firmly swaddled. A better option is a sleep sack.

SIDS research continues. The APA makes new information available as it becomes known. While it is unlikely that we will ever be able to completely eradicate all instances of SIDS, following the baby sleep guidelines your pediatrician gives you is a good start. Above all, remember to put your baby down to sleep on her back.

When Can My Baby Sleep Through the Night?

 

It doesn’t take most parents very long to start asking, “When can my baby sleep through the night?”

It would be nice if there was an easy, cookie cutter answer, but there really isn’t. The short form answer is that your baby can sleep through the night when she’s ready to. Until then, you’re on mommy (or daddy) duty around the clock.

Some babies are capable of sleeping through the night as early as three months. Most can sleep through the night by the time they’re a year old. The average age for babies starting to sleep through the night is about nine months old. Of course, sleeping through the night doesn’t mean going to bed at ten and waking up at seven or eight. Most people consider a baby to be sleeping through the night when they can sleep for a solid five of six hours at nighttime.

So, what can you do to help your baby get ready to sleep through the night? That really depends on what approach you take to nighttime parenting. There are two basic approaches to handling older babies (older than four or five months old) at night. There are many variations of these, but the two main approaches are:

  • Cry it out. At some point, you decide to let the baby cry until she falls back to sleep. This is assuming, of course, that you have taken care of her needs (feeding, diaper, etc.). This should never be done with infants. Wait until the baby is at least five or six months old.
  • Attachment parenting. Parents who use some variation of attachment parenting make it a point to go to their babies immediately anytime they are crying, including in the middle of the night.

If you are using the attachment parenting method, there are still some things you can do to help your child sleep through the night when she’s old enough. These include:

  • Lots of stimulation during the day. Train your baby to think of day time as the time to be awake and have fun by giving her lots of attention and interaction. This can also help tire her out.
  • Feed and change baby close to bedtime. When you see that baby is getting droopy eyed, it may seem counter-intuitive to do anything other than encourage her to sleep. She’s likely to sleep longer, though, if you make sure to feed and change her when she’s starting to get tired.
  • Make nighttime parenting affectionate, but boring. The trick here is to care for your baby without adding extra stimulation. Keep the lights low and don’t bring out the toys.

Keep Calm and Sleep On

Everyone who has ever had a baby knows what it feels like when nothing you do seems to work to calm your fussy baby down. It may be because of colic; it may be because of teething; it may be because of completely unknown causes, but there’s nothing that can stress a parent out faster than a baby who just cannot stop crying and fussing.

Don’t let it drive you crazy. Your baby’s crying doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent, or that you’ve somehow missed whatever it is that your little son or daughter needs. Babies cry. It’s one of the only ways the possess to express themselves, and often they really don’t know what it is exactly that they’re crying about.

Of course, babies do cry to express needs, and we should do our level best to meet those needs. If your baby is fussy, go through the checklist. Is she hungry? Is she warm enough? Too warm? Does her diaper need to be changed? Does she want a favorite toy or other comfort item?

Unfortunately, your baby can’t look you deep in the eyes and say, “Mom, what I would really like right now is if you would swaddle me in the yellow blanket. I know the pink one is prettier to you, but I prefer yellow. And besides, the yellow one has a silky edging that I really like.”

So instead, your baby cries. Unfortunately for us, that means playing a guessing game as often as not. And the playing field is somewhat stacked, because your baby may not even really be aware of what it is that she wants. As often as not, her primitive thoughts and emotions are simply telling her that she’s not comfortable.

So, how do you stay level headed while trying to take care of a baby that seems bound and determined to drive you crazy? Here are some tips:

  • Remind yourself that it isn’t personal. Your baby loves you, and is crying because she trusts you to take care of her needs. Even if that need is just to be held while she cries.
  • Pray, meditate, or do whatever you do to calm yourself down.
  • Sing. Not only will this often soothe your baby, but it can help calm you down as well. If nothing else, it gives you something to listen to other than the baby’s cries.
  • If necessary, lay baby down and go into another room, or even outside for a little while. It won’t hurt your baby to lie in her crib and cry for a few minutes, and you need a breather every now and then. Make sure that baby is somewhere safe, of course.

Being Flexible for Baby

If you have a baby, you’ve probably already been inundated with advice about how to get her to fall asleep and stay sleeping thorough the night. And, more likely than not, the advice you’ve received is contradictory. It seems like everyone has a different opinion about what’s best for babies and beddie-bye time.

So, like most good parents in the new millennium, you fire up your laptop and surf the Internet to see what the experts have to say about the matter. After all, the best information in the world is online and right at your fingertips, right?

You’ve probably already figured out by now that the most highly regarded experts on baby sleep disagree as strongly as your friends and family members do. Some, like Dr. Sears, advocate a very hands on approach to baby sleep, encouraging you to come running at baby’s first night time whimper. Others, like Dr. Ferber, encourage methods that involve some degree or other of allowing baby to fuss a little so that she can learn how to soothe herself and fall asleep without needing constant attention.

So, which is best? Unfortunately, there really isn’t a definitive answer. The best you’re going to get on the subject are opinions.

The best advice we ever received on the subject was to just be flexible. Every family is different, and every baby is different. We’ve had two children, several years apart, and we can attest to the fact that different babies can have very different sleep needs.

We’ve never been the sort who could just lie there and let our babies cry it out for any period of time. We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with letting them cry it out, just that we couldn’t do it ourselves. As a matter of fact, we were encouraged by most of the experts whom we had access to (this was before we could get our advice online) to let our babies cry it out and self soothe, to the point that we sometimes wondered if we were doing our kids a disservice by going to them when they cried.

The end result for us, though, and for the overwhelming majority of parents, is that our babies eventually figured out that night time is for sleeping and began to sleep through the night. Remarkably, our friends who used the cry it our method found the same thing. Their kids also eventually started sleeping through the night.

Babies have suffered a lot worse than being over cuddled or being left to cry too long and still have grown up to be happy, healthy children and adults. So, the bottom line for baby sleep is to do what works for you and your baby. And trust us, you may need to be willing to try more than one approach before you find one that works for your family.