Safe Sleep Advice from Real Moms

By Courtney Duggan

When I became pregnant with my first child, I did everything I could to prepare—from research on cribs, bottles, breastfeeding, you name it. Having suffered miscarriages in the past, I was very concerned and anxious about SIDS. I made sure that my daughter’s crib had nothing but the mattress and sheet. I even contemplated buying one of those boards that detects movement and alerts you when a baby stops moving.

Once my daughter was born, she slept in the bassinet in our bedroom. I was still recovering from my cesarean, so my husband was there to help put her in and take her out of her bassinet when it was time to nurse. I was very good about following the safe sleep guidelines, but we would sometimes take naps together while I nursed on my side. I knew in the back of my mind it wasn’t the best option, but we were both able to get rest.

Fast forward 2 years, and my son is born. Again, I was cautious as I prepared for a new baby: I purchased a firm mattress and was sure not to have any toys, bumpers, or blankets in his crib. I told myself I was going to be much better with following safe sleep guidelines than I was with my daughter.

He, too, was born via cesarean, and in the beginning I was very good about not allowing him in bed and always putting him back in his bassinet. When he was about 3 months old, it became harder and harder to follow the guidelines. My son wasn’t sleeping at night, he refused any kind of pacifier (I tried six different brands), and the only thing that soothed him was nursing.

Baby Maxwell in his sleepsuit

Around this time, I returned to my full-time job. I found it easier to nurse him while lying down and returning to sleep. He also seemed to sleep better when he was next to me. I knew it wasn’t right, but I just wanted him to sleep—and I wanted to sleep myself. I tried swaddling, sleep suits, white noise… everything. It’s not supposed to be this hard the second time around, I thought. I’d already been through this; they say the second kid is easier!

When he was about 8 months old, I woke up to a boom and a baby screaming: He had fallen out of the bed, and I felt like the world’s worst mother. Luckily he was ok, but it could have been worse. He could have really gotten injured, or worse, I could have lost him. I knew the rules, I knew that babies were supposed to sleep in their own space, but I ignored them because I wanted my baby to sleep during the night and I was exhausted.

After my son’s fall, I knew something had to change; my son could no longer sleep in my bed at night. I decided to move his crib from our room into another room, and I gave the pacifier another shot. While sleep training hasn’t been successful, he is now taking a pacifier. Instead of bringing him into my bed when he wakes up at night, I offer him his pacifier if it’s before 3 a.m. If he wakes up again, I stay in his room to nurse him and then place him back in his crib. In addition, I had to make the decision to go to sleep earlier to ensure that I got my rest, too.

This got me thinking: What are some ways to help moms follow safe sleep practices after the baby is home? I enlisted the help of nurse Sharon Hitchcock, DNP, RN-C and some fellow moms.

Sharon is an obstetrics nurse and teaches at the University of Arizona. She is quite passionate about the topic of SIDS and safe infant sleep as she now knows why most of these deaths occur and, more importantly, how to prevent them (at least most of them).

She routinely talks about the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) safe sleep recommendations to students as well as parents and nurses. She’s also gotten a recent taste of some of the struggles, as she’s the happy grandma of a 9-month-old!

Naomi is mom of 9-month-old Samuel and became a safe sleep advocate long before having her baby. Heidi is almost finished with nursing school and has two kids, 3-month-old Eli and 4-year-old Sophia. Melanie, a mom of three, teaches obstetrics at the University of Arizona and is a childbirth educator at the local hospitals.

I shared with them my struggles of following safe sleep practices with my son and asked several questions about how parents can better follow safe sleep guidelines. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Night feedings can be exhausting, especially when breastfeeding. What are some best practices to help resist the urge to nurse while lying down?  

NAOMI: I resisted the urge to nurse while lying down simply because I didn’t want to bring the baby into bed with me. There were some times when I nursed while sitting up in bed, but I also nursed in a rocking chair in my son’s room, just next to his crib, so I could immediately put him back to bed when he finished eating. I’m a light sleeper and didn’t worry much about falling asleep while feeding him, but I’ve heard it’s a good idea to use a timer, like the one on your phone, if you’re worried about falling asleep.

HEIDI: I was aware of the risks of breastfeeding while lying down from my OB classes in nursing school and had heard the horror stories of parents falling asleep with their infants and accidently suffocating them during their sleep. This was enough to make me take precautions the majority of the time that I was breastfeeding at night. I would feed him in my bed, sitting up, with him in the cross cradle position. I would set alarms just in case I did fall asleep with him, as studies have shown that the longer you are asleep with your infant, the greater the risk of SIDS. If mothers are truly so exhausted that they feel like they need to lie down while nursing, they should remove all pillows and blankets from around the baby and set alarms that will wake them should they fall asleep

  1. What are some ways to keep baby warm at night without using blankets?

NAOMI: Our son was born at the end of November, just when it really started to cool down here in southern Arizona. We kept the room warm and comfortable, and he wore footed pajamas.

HEIDI: For both of my children, I used sleep sacks that are available to buy online or in any baby store. They have worked well for me both times. I made sure the house was kept warm enough that they would be comfortable throughout the night.

MELANIE: It is recommended to keep the bedroom at a temperature that is comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. Overheating a baby is very dangerous, as they cannot just push the covers off.

  1. The risk of SIDS goes down once a baby turns 6 months—is it okay to bed-share then?

HEIDI: No. The baby can still roll over and suffocate on the softer mattress, pillows, and thick blankets that we have. In addition to the suffocation risks, I believe that getting the baby into a routine of sleeping in their parents’ bed will be one that is hard to break. Neither of my children have been able to sleep in my bed with me, mostly due to my concern for their safety. I am a hard sleeper and would not wake up if I rolled onto them. I also always wanted them to be able to sleep in their own rooms, once old enough.

MELANIE: It is true that most SIDS deaths occur before 6 months, but the infant is still at risk for SIDS until 12 months of age, and adult beds are not designed for infants. Most babies are rolling over by 6 months, and adult beds are usually too soft and have too many blankets and pillows. The other risks include the parents rolling onto the infant or the infant falling out of the bed.

  1. My baby has reflux and spits up during the night. Can I place a wedge or pillow in his crib?

HEIDI: No. This is another thing that infants could suffocate on if they rolled over. My son spits up a lot, too, but thankfully I knew from my OB class that it was safer for him to be on his back when he sleeps than on his stomach or wedged if he spits up. A baby is less likely to choke when on their back if they spit up because their airway sits above their esophagus (the tube going to their stomach), making it easier for the fluid to stay away from the airway and easier to swallow.

MELANIE: The AAP recommends that infants are always placed on their backs and not on their sides. Infants are quite good at protecting their airways while on their backs (unless they have a swallowing impairment, which your doctor would tell you). The U.S. FDA has stated that infant sleep positioners are not recommended as there have been several cases of infant deaths from the use of side positioners after the baby rolled to the stomach position or when their face got wedged into the positioner. Keeping the infant upright on a parent’s shoulder for 20–30 minutes after a feeding can decrease reflux.

SHARON: Some parents may think it’s a good idea to elevate the head of the crib to help with the reflux. However, multiple studies have shown this does not help and actually puts the baby at risk for sliding down to the foot of the bed and getting into an unsafe sleeping position.

  1. If I nurse while lying down, should I remove everything from my bed in case we fall asleep?  

NAOMI: This is what the newest recommendations advise you to do. Make sure all the blankets, pillows, etc., are moved out of the way, so that in the event you fall asleep, the bed will be a little bit safer.

HEIDI: Absolutely. This is the safest practice if you must nurse while lying down. This is what I did. I also asked my husband to adjust his pillow, and if possible, stay awake with me to ensure that I didn’t fall asleep with the baby. We aren’t perfect, though, and there were a couple of times where we dozed off with him, but fortunately I had alarms set to wake me within 15 minutes of beginning nursing. Once I knew he was full and had a clean diaper on, I set him back down in his crib and went to sleep.

  1. Sometimes the baby falls asleep on my chest. It’s recommended that babies sleep on their backs, but since he’s on my chest is it okay?

HEIDI: I believe so, as long as you are rested enough that there is no risk of you falling asleep and you are able to monitor the baby while he is asleep on his tummy. I did this a lot with both of my children during the day and think it is the perfect opportunity for skin-to-skin time.

SHARON: Make sure you can see your baby’s face (to make sure it is not covered or does not become wedged into your breasts) and you are awake and attentive to him.

  1. The only way to get my baby to sleep is if I nurse him; when I go to transfer him into his own bed, he wakes up and cries. Is it okay to let him cry it out?

NAOMI: This is a hard topic. There are so many opinions out there, and it’s hard not to get discouraged by all the articles in my Facebook newsfeed that highlight how awful it is to let your baby “cry it out.” It became important for me to consider our circumstances and the fact that every baby is different. I didn’t use the formal “cry-it-out” method for sleep training, but there were, and still are, so many times when I have to let my son cry for a while before he’ll give in and go to sleep. He’s fed. His diaper is clean. He has burped. He’s still crying. He’s not comforted by me holding him close. I’m starting to go a little crazy, and my left ear is ringing from his screams. I know he’s exhausted. What he needs is sleep. It’s okay to place him in his crib and walk away. It’s OKAY to let him cry. I had to learn this early on. It’s made a huge difference.

MELANIE: Crying is a baby’s language and the only way they have to communicate. They cry because they are hungry, tired, uncomfortable, and sometimes just because they are fussy and need to get rid of excess energy. If they have burped and their diaper is clean, you can try to console them with rhythmic noise, music, or gently stroking their head. If the baby is tired, they will usually fall asleep quickly.

Safe sleep is harder than it appears, at least for some of the recommendations. This is an extraordinarily complex topic, and we know it’s hard. In order to keep your baby  as safe as possible, learn  the recommendations, start them at birth, do the best you can, and know that you are not alone in your struggle.

Do you have safe sleep tips/advice you want to share with parents? Share them at www.awhonn.org/SafeSleepTips

Resources


References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 138(5), 1–12. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2938

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Sudden unexpected infant death and sudden infant death syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sids/data.htm

Gradisar, M., Jackson, K., Spurrier, N. J., Gibson, J., Whitman, J., Williams, A. S., . . . Kennaway, D. J. (2016). Behavioral interventions for infant sleep problems: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 137(6), 1–10. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-1486

Hitchcock, S. C. (2017). An update on safe infant sleep. Nursing for Women’s Health, 21(4), 307–311. doi:10.1016/j.nwh.2017.06.007

Moon, R. Y., & Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (2016). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Evidence base for 2016 updated recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment. Pediatrics, 138(5), e1–e29. doi.org:10.1542/peds.2016-2940

Storrs, C. (2016). It’s OK to let your baby cry himself to sleep, study finds. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/24/health/cry-it-out-sleep-training-ok/index.html


Courtney Duggan is a digital marketing manager in the Washington, D.C. area and is a mother of 2.

Providing Care for Survivors of Sexual Abuse During Childbirth

“Humiliating and Traumatic,” these are the words from a survivor of sexual abuse when asked to describe her labor and delivery. All too often, women who have been sexually abused carry their wounds into the delivery room. And, all too often, these unresolved traumas rear their ugly heads and cause complications, from labor dystocias, to full blown anxiety attacks that result in a woman completely shutting down. These are some of the more challenging labors to manage.

According to the U.S. Department of Health, one in four girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. This is in many ways a silent epidemic. Sometimes victims don’t disclose their abuse to their care providers. The reasons vary, and can range from  ongoing suffering of the traumatic effects of the abuse and  avoiding  reliving it, to a continuing sense of shame that victims  may have never come to grips with.

What are some possible signs of sexual abuse?

According to When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women, having a constellation of these symptoms can indicate a history of abuse. Having one or more of the following should trigger a red flag and considerations for a woman’s  care during childbirth:

  • Not able to feel fetal movement. Some women have “numbed” that part of the body
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Missed prenatal appointments
  • Panic with vaginal exams
  • Extreme anxiety with IV starts
  • Disassociation that manifests as if she’s going into a trance

Many of these symptoms can understandably occur in women who don’t have a history of sexual abuse, but when a woman has two or more, it’s reasonable to suspect that such a history is possible. These symptoms can stem from PTSD, which is triggered by a woman’s perception of loss-of-control, as well as the physical sensations that occur during pelvic exams, labor, and birth. By rushing through procedures, and not allowing the woman time to process (if possible), understand, and consent to what is happening to her body, we can inadvertently trigger a posttraumatic reaction.

Admittedly, the discussion of sexual abuse is a tough topic for those on either end of the conversation. We often just touch on the subject while reviewing women’s admission histories, and then move on. Fortunately, we don’t need the admission of abuse to employ strategies developed for survivors. It’s actually much more common for caregivers to pick up on non-verbal cues and then tailor their care. A real tragedy is the guilt and shame survivors can feel after giving birth. So, like we would do for any woman,  it’s best to acknowledge the struggle of labor and birth, the strength a woman demonstrated, and the effort and precious reward she  achieved.

What are interventions that nurses and other caregivers can provide?

  • Explain as much as you can in advance, for example “If we run into an emergent situation there might be unfamiliar nurses coming in to help. I know this can cause anxiety, but I want to prepare you ahead of time in case it happens.”
  • Always start with asking permission. From starting an IV to turning on the overhead lights, make sure to obtain permission before doing any procedures or making changes to the environment
  • Go slowly with everything you do–this can be helpful in relation to a woman’s  fear of losing control. Fast movements can be triggers. This is especially important when uncovering a woman or assisting her with positioning.
  • Limit vaginal exams. These are especially traumatic and should be minimized. If a woman is having difficulty in relaxing enough to complete an exam, try making an agreement about when and why you can perform one. If a woman understands that the exams are being performed only when necessary, and with her consent, her anxiety is often more controllable during exams.
  • Minimize people in her room. She might have issues with nursing students or residents, especially if they are male. Obtain her permission before any new staff come into the room, unless there’s an emergent situation.

What are things not to say?

  • Intrusive interest-prying for details or descriptions of the abuse
  • Minimizing the abuse: “Well, that’s over now.”
  • Exaggerated concern
  • Shock or disgust
  • Pity

What are good things to say?

  • “I can imagine that was very hard to share that with me. It takes a lot of courage to talk about and I respect you for doing that.”
  • “Sometimes talking about these episodes can trigger strong feelings. How are you feeling right now?”
  • And, it’s always essential to assess the woman’s current well-being “Do you feel unsafe in any aspect of your life?”

Not all survivors of sexual abuse have difficulty with pregnancy or childbirth, for some it can be empowering. For those who do struggle, recognize that we have a powerful opportunity to help them. We can communicate therapeutically to help  change the woman’s focus from feeling out-of-control.  We can employ care practices to avoid the woman feeling re-traumatizatized.  And we can set the stage to promote healing and bonding with the newborn. In many instances it’s our tacit recognition and respectful and supportive care that facilitates healing, more than any words we could utter or medicines we could administer.

Where can I learn more?

What are resources for my patients?

  • National Sexual Abuse Hotline: 1800-656-HOPE
  • RAINN: Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, www.rainn.org

Tasha-poslaniecTasha Poslaniec has been a registered nurse for 17 years. She has been working in obstetrics for over a decade and is currently a Perinatal Quality Review Nurse and Childbirth Educator.

She also writes about nursing and childbirth and has been published in the Huffington Post and the American Journal of Nursing. Pain control in childbirth has long been a topic of study and research for her.

Lessening the Risk of Birth Trauma

By Karin Beschen, LMHC

 “I was at a routine dental office visit a few weeks after my daughter was born. I remember being reclined in the chair, the bright overhead light and the scent of latex.  Images of surgical masks whipped through my mind.  Fear rushed through my body and I shook uncontrollably.  My body felt hollow and numb but also heavy and out of control.  In that moment I truly believed I was having another emergency c-section.”

This quote is from a woman who experienced a traumatic birth.  She is the mother of a beautiful baby and has had many moments of joy and connection, but also times of panic and fear.  “Mini movies” of her daughter’s birth play in her mind throughout the day.  She deleted the photos of her daughter in the NICU and she wants to disappear when her friends talk about pregnancy.  The birth didn’t end when her baby was born; it followed her from the hospital and it has interfered with many aspects of her life.

Research reveals that between 33-45% of women perceive their births to be traumatic. (Beck, 2013).  Birth trauma is defined as “an event occurring during the labor and delivery process that involves actual or threatened serious injury or death to the mother or her infant.  The birthing woman experiences intense fear, helplessness, loss of control and horror.”  (Beck, 2004a, p. 28).

Approximately 9% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. Most often, this illness is caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum. These traumas could include:

  • Prolapsed cord
  • Unplanned cesarean
  • Use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the baby
  • Baby going to NICU
  • Feelings of powerlessness, poor communication and/or lack of support and reassurance during the delivery
  • Women who have experienced previous trauma, such as rape or sexual abuse
  • Women who have experienced a severe complication or injury related to pregnancy or childbirth, such as severe postpartum hemorrhage, unexpected hysterectomy, severe preeclampsia/eclampsia, perineal trauma (3rd or 4th degree tear), or cardiac disease

My therapy work with mothers is typically after a traumatic birth.  The more I learn about the mother’s labor and birth experience, the more I can understand what care and education could have better supported her during  birth.

The “3 E’s” – explain, encourage and empathize – can be a useful framework for obstetrical staff in lessening the risk of a traumatic birth.  

Explain  

When explaining a process, options or a procedure, always include the woman in the discussion of her own care.  There is a distinct difference in hearing a discussion and being a part of one.  If plans change, explain what is happening and what is needed to correct the situation.

Encourage

The connection a mother has with those caring for her during childbirth is deep — you are present during one of the most emotional, unpredictable times in her life.  Encouragement is empowering and can offer the mother a sense of control.  Encourage questions.   If plans change, discuss possible alternatives.   Using “we” in conversations shows alignment and rallying together.

Empathize 

Women in labor yearn for companionship, support and empathy.

Phrases such as “I know,”  “I’m here,” and “Yes” are phrases that connect staff with a woman’s experience when she feels pain, fear, disappointment or frustration.

I’ve heard many birth stories over the years; devastating stories of physical compromise, intense fear and loss of the baby’s life.  How the mother is cared for, is what she remembers.  The tone of your voice.  The gentleness.  The validation of feelings.  One of my clients was unaware she was being rushed for an emergency cesarean.  She said in all of the chaos and in a knee-chest position, she extended her arm and a nurse held her hand.  Beauty within terror.   It was a simple gesture and it has been the most powerful, healing memory for her.   Even in the midst of an emergency, someone saw her need.  Someone saw her.

Obstetric staff has great influence on how a mother remembers her birth experience.  Expressing empathy and explaining and encouraging a laboring and postpartum mom can influence her health and well-being.  New mothers who receive the “3 Es” can better transition to home, experience less anxiety, have more positive feelings about themselves and improved bonding with their babies.


Karin Beschen is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor specializing in reproductive and maternal mental health.  She also serves as a volunteer co-coordinator for Iowa for Postpartum Support International.

 

 

Additional Resources

Postpartum Support International 

PaTTCh (Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Birth)

Improving Birth

References

Beck, C. T. (2004a). Birth trauma: In the eye of the beholder. Nursing Research 53(1), 28-35.

Beck, C. T., Driscoll, J.W., & Watson, S. (2013). Traumatic Childbirth New York, NY: Routledge.

 

 

 

Navigating a Labor Experience: As A Student

By: Amy Smith, Student Nurse at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston

I could feel the excitement in the room as I entered. The couple was receptive to my questions and suggestions; and the woman was more than happy to involve me in her care.  I tried to build rapport even though I was nervous in my role as a nursing student. This was the first time I had assisted a woman in labor and, after her membranes were artificially ruptured, her contractions started to come about two minutes apart.  At one point, I had my hand on her back and her husband smiled at me across the room and signaled for to me to remove my hand!  It was a great moment in which the support person and I connected!  I remained quiet during her contractions and I asked her if she wanted me to breathe with her but she said she had it under control. I kept thinking back to my own labors and what I felt I wanted from support people so I asked her if she would like lower back counter pressure but she refused.  The family had not done a childbirth preparation course so I assumed that their interest or skills with working through labor was limited.  I thought that they would need my help more yet her prenatal yoga practice seemed to have given her the tools she needed to get through her labor. The tools I offered her personally were meditative.  I told her to focus on her favorite place, to discuss her needs and frustrations with us in between contractions and reassured her that I was there for her to breathe with her and regulate her breathing as needed.

Reflecting on the Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve virtues I used during this experience, I believe they were humility and engagement. Humility in that I had to understand I did not know what was best for this family. I assumed they would want and need what I needed during childbirth or skills I learned from the comfort measures video I used to prepare for this clinical experience. The woman decided what she needed and I was there to support her. In respecting their wishes I could engage with the family. Before I left them for the day they commented, “We felt like we had our own doula”.  It was easy and a pleasure to engage with this couple and follow their commands and offer suggestions. I told them I had never wanted to stay at clinical so much as I did with them. I will always remember this family.

 

Additional Resources

AWHONN’s Nursing Care and Women Babies Deserve Poster –  AWHONN’s statement on ethical nursing practice, Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve, is rooted in the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses, and provides nurses with core elements of ethical nursing practice for our specialty and corresponding examples of the virtues of ethical practice in action.

Read a commentary about Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve in AWHONN’s journal Nursing for Women’s Health. Consider submitting your own story of how you or your colleagues practice nursing care that women and babies deserve at https://www.awhonn.org/?NursingCare


nursepicamyAmy is an ABSN student at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston.  She was a stay at home mother for 12 years,  a community coordinator for a non profit kids running program and a volunteer at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston before deciding to enter the nursing field.  With extensive volunteer experience from a camp for blind & visually impaired adults and children, to co-president of an elementary school PTO, she enjoys working with diverse groups of all ages.  Amy aims to work in labor and delivery after graduation in August 2017 but is also interested in global health and epidemiology.  She has intentions to keep making a difference in the lives of those she may never meet again.