Safe places for baby to sleep

Lottie on the way home from the hospital. She slept through her first trip in the car seat.
Lottie on the way home from the hospital. She slept through her first trip in the car seat.

Lottie is 20 weeks old (4.5 months) and she is developing more personality every day. In fact, out of all the weeks we have been getting to know her, this has been my favourite so far. She is cracking smiles at everyone and anyone, including strangers at the supermarket. And since we started solids a week ago, she seems to have a newfound energy for interaction and grabbing things (and putting them in her mouth). It might just be a coincidence, but her enthusiasm for food just seems to have made her grow up from a ‘newborn baby’ to a ‘small child’. Everything is changing so fast and I’m loving every minute of it.

Lottie’s sleeps have been consistently consistent too. She still hasn’t managed a sleep at mother’s group, or any other place outside of home where I can’t use a portacot or take her for a walk in the pram or a drive in the car. But this situation is not surprising. It’s not a coincidence that she can’t just sleep on a mat in a brightly lit room full of other people (and babies), or at a BBQ, at the pub, on the beach or any number of other places I might like her to sleep so I can be out and about with her for longer than a couple of hours. This is because all the sleep cues I’ve trained her to rely on before going to sleep are in fact necessary for her to go to sleep. I have to remind myself that right at the start, I said I was committed to having proper day sleeps and avoiding ‘napping and snacking’, and I remain committed to this ‘parent-led’ sleep method. Whereas once I was stressing that Lottie wouldn’t sleep in her cot during the day, now she finds it very hard to sleep anywhere else for any longer than 30 – 40 minutes max: this includes the pram, the car and the carrier. Even the old ‘going to sleep on the boob’ trick has failed of late. It’s not so bad though because as long as I don’t overdo what I would call ‘non-cot-sleeps’, a short nap does take the edge off her overtiredness and so even with a couple of ‘non-cot-sleeps’ a day, we are still usually on track for a full nights’ sleep (including the 10pm dream feed). So all good.

As I mentioned, one place Lottie still manages to have short day sleeps is in the car in her capsule. The capsule used to also double as Lottie’s pram, as the capsule clicked out of the car and onto my Mountain Buggy Swift pram. For the last couple of weeks, we have stopped using the capsule on the pram because Lottie is now big enough for the stroller pram, and is very happy to sleep in it when it is fully reclined (for no longer than 30 minutes as long as the pram is moving non-stop for those 30 minutes!). However, for the first 2 – 3 months, Lottie was more than happy to sleep in her capsule for up to 2 hours, which meant that she would often fall asleep in the car and then stay asleep once I’d taken the capsule out of the car. Or she would fall asleep in the capsule on the pram and I could keep her asleep even when not pushing, such as one very memorable visit to the Royal Show where she slept in the capsule on the pram for 3 hours. These days, the longest sleeps Lottie has in the capsule are when we go for long drives, which we do most weekends to and from my family’s beach house which is just over an hour from home. Lottie is so good at falling asleep in the car, I have renamed our car ‘the sleep machine’ as it remains a sure-fire way to get in a short nap.

Even though Lottie doesn’t stay asleep once we stop driving, she often used to stay asleep when she was younger and I thought nothing of transferring the capsule into the house, or onto the pram for a walk, thinking, like all new mothers – the more sleep the better! But I have had to think again this week after reading this tragic story about a family losing their 3 month old son from accidental suffocation in a car seat capsule. The article outlining the events surrounding this accident came with a warning that ‘Research proves it is never safe to leave your baby asleep in a car seat’. When I read the evidence that research by doctors at the University of Auckland found 9 of 43 incidents involving ‘babies who had turned blue from lack of oxygen’ were when babies were in car seats or upright bouncers, I must admit I was horrified. The article also quoted Kid Safe Australia whose ‘safe sleeping for infants’ fact sheet states ‘Bouncinettes, prams, strollers, hammocks, baby swings, and car seats have NOT been designed for safe sleeping. No young child should be left unsupervised in these if they fall asleep’. And then this article about a baby’s death in a bouncer reports that a study of baby deaths in capsules, swings and bouncers found the time period between when the child had last been seen alive ‘to when they were discovered ranged from as little as four minutes to up to 11 hours’. 4 minutes?!? At this point my horror (and guilt) at unknowingly putting Lottie in unsafe sleeping environment many times also turned to anger. Because I can absolutely guarantee you that all babies who use car seat capsules, sleep in car seat capsules. All babies who ride in cars, sleep in car seat capsules. In fact, Lottie fell asleep in her car capsule on the way home from the hospital. Because newborn babies sleep most of the day! And the car’s motion helps them to go to sleep. So now we’re being told that these car seat capsules, which are built to be safe in the event of an accident, are not safe to sleep in ‘unsupervised?’ And that babies should be woken when you reach your destination, and not left to sleep in the capsule. In Lottie’s case, this would have meant being woken many times after a 10 minute nap. No thank you!

When I thought about it, I realised that in fact Lottie was better supervised asleep in her capsule out of the car than she is asleep in the back seat of the car. When she’s out of the car, I can see her clearly and am not distracted by important things like keeping the car on the road and making sure I’m not driving into oncoming traffic. I have a mirror in front of the capsule since it is rear facing, but it’s very hard to glance at it in the rear-view-mirror for a safe amount of time, so if I am driving on my own, on a freeway or in the country where I don’t stop at traffic lights and I’m going too fast to take my eyes off the road for even a moment, Lottie is very often ‘unsupervised’ and asleep in her capsule for much longer than 4 minutes. I would never put Lottie down to sleep anywhere but her cot overnight (and thankfully she has always happily slept in her cot at night). And I’m sure she has never been in the pram or capsule asleep outside of the car for longer than a few minutes without me checking on her. But when I am driving, it is another matter. And when I am driving, Lottie, like all babies, is very often asleep. So the very clever people who have designed car seat capsules to be safe, comfy and transportable, are now telling us they’re not a safe place to sleep? For crying out loud, we can put humans on the moon, but we can’t design a safe place for babies to sleep ‘unsupervised’ in the car? I just don’t think this is good enough. Particularly for new mums, prone to anxiety and desperate to get their new babies as much sleep as they need, who also don’t want to be stuck, isolated at home for the first year of their baby’s life, which in many cases can be very bad for the new mum’s mental health. I just don’t think this is good enough! And I have no idea what to do about it, except to write this post.


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