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Conventional Wisdom vs. Yourself

It's time to come out of the closet. I've got a dirty little secret from when the boys were babies: I put them to sleep on their tummies.

I revealed this recently to a cousin, who's going through a terrible bout of colic and digestive issues with her newborn. However, I wouldn't be admitting this to the general public if it weren't for a couple of articles and postings recently. First, came 'Today' co-anchorwoman Natalie Morales admitting on the ParentConnect forum that she does the same:

"I confess: I let my newborn sleep on his stomach. I know, I know, being a journalist, I've read all the research that says to put babies on their back to sleep. ... Since he really seemed happier when he was on his tummy, that's how I let him sleep. And guess what? We both can sleep better at night because of it. Is that such a bad thing?"

And then, this week, Heather Sokoloff of the Globe and Mail interviewed parents who knowingly ignored pediatrician's well-known sleep advice by letting their infants sleep in bouncy chairs, swings and their own beds.

I don't recall exactly when I began ignoring the "Back to Sleep" campaign with my first son. I was in an overly sleep-deprived state when I discovered that he slept better on his tummy. Though I was initially nervous, we all slept more that way. Then came the second one. Even in the hospital, I'd put him on his tummy in the bassinet, quickly switching him to his back or picking him up if I heard a nurse coming. I was more responsible, this time, though, engaging in a long discussion with my pediatrician about putting him to sleep on his belly instead of his back and the research behind "Back to Sleep." Rather than judge me, she supported my decision.

While I don't advocate ignoring potentially life-altering decisions like whether to abide by the "Back to Sleep" campaign, such instances as these make me wonder: How many of you have ignored your pediatrician's or some other expert's advice about your child? How many of you 'fess up to it? How many of you feel guilty about stepping out and trusting your own instincts?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  February 27, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
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On her belly in bed with me. Soy-based infant formula 'til she was almost six, yep, out of a bottle. She's 21 now, turned out just fine. She was an easily stressed infant/toddler. (We ditched her preschool "graduation ceremony" after she told me, "I don't think I can handle this.") It didn't feel right to deprive her of her own ways to comfort herself.

Posted by: Clamlydia | February 27, 2009 6:19 AM | Report abuse

The Deltas never feel guilty about trusting their own instincts.

Posted by: jezebel3 | February 27, 2009 6:32 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me over the time I've had children the recommendations about how/where they should sleep have flip-flopped at least twice.

Babies need sleep - and so do their parents. Maybe a baby with tummy problems will do better on their tummy - probably keeps gas from building up. Maybe a baby with a runny nose will breath better snoozing in his/her seat.

Maybe a baby with a parent who sleeps like a log with feather pillows doesn't belong in the same bed.

I think conventional wisdom has a place, but it's a starting place and not a jail cell.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 27, 2009 6:49 AM | Report abuse

While I don't advocate ignoring potentially life-altering decisions like whether to abide by the "Back to Sleep" campaign,
Ummmm.. I think you kinda just did! Secondly, conventional wisdom differs greatly from significant scientific evidence. There is a big difference between allowing your baby to sleep on their stomach and say doing sign language with your baby. I guess its all well and good except for those babies that die and then its not so good. So when it comes to things that could literally kill my child, I follow the current scientifically based recommendations. Call me crazy.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 27, 2009 7:19 AM | Report abuse

No, I don't think she ignored the Back to Sleep campaign. Listening to it and then making a different decision is not necessarily ignoring it. Yes, those who put their babies to sleep on their tummies may assume a greater risk. And the risk is greater the younger the child is. I can't remember for sure, but I think the risk of SIDS decreases dramatically as the infant gets a few months older. Isn't the risk nearly negligible by the time the child is six months old? So for someone who tries other options, and gets to tummy sleeping with an infant who is not newborn, the risk may be nil. Also, the research shows a significant difference in rate of SIDS for a back sleeping child who is put to sleep on his/her tummy by a babysitter who doesn't know better as compared to a child who routinely sleeps on his/her back. So while I support the Back to Sleep campaign, and put my own kids on their backs, I can conceive of a situation in which tummysleeping seems reasonable.

Posted by: janedoe5 | February 27, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

"So when it comes to things that could literally kill my child, I follow the current scientifically based recommendations."

With that logic, you would never need to buy a car seat for your child. Why not? Because driving your child around in a vehicle intrinsically subjects him to the risk of accidental car death. In fact, it's best not to ever get behind the wheel of a car and drive. Period.

And yes, if you try to live a life where every single decision is based on avoiding the risk of hazard, I would expect you to eventually drive yourself crazy. Literally. Just remember, that keeping your child confined inside that plastic bubble has hazardous risks of its own.

Personally, I assess the current scientifically based recommendations for what its worth, adjust for convenience/satisfaction, then make my decisions accordingly. In almost all cases, I side on what enhances the quality of life for me and the family and ignore the small risk factors. I guess in today's safety-obsessed society, that makes me a very, very lucky gamblin' man.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 27, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

My youngest slept on her tummy. She had reflux and when I mentioned her preferance for tummy sleeping I discussed it with the pediatrician she said it is actually quite common. So I removed the crib bumpers and never used any extra blankets,etc. The baby had reflux and she was simply more comfortable that way. As soon as she could roll over, it wasn't my choice any more. I could lay her down on her back but she wound up on her belly anyway.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | February 27, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Wait, when did it become not ok to let the baby sleep in her bouncy seat? My two-week old regularly sleeps in that or her swing -- seems to me like a reasonable compromise between avoiding tummy-sleeping and actually getting the baby to sleep (does anyone have a newborn who's happy to sleep flat on her back?)

I'll admit, I'm too nervous a mom to put my child to sleep on her stomach, unless I'm planning on being in the same room and awake the entire time she's sleeping (of she's sleeping on me, which happens a lot). I don't tend to consider myself an overprotective parent, but in this case, the research is fairly compelling -- the rate of SIDS has dropped by something like 50% since the "Back to Sleep" campaign began.

Posted by: newsahm | February 27, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Can I ask for a tangentially related conversation, on how you chose your pediatrician?

These "rules" and conventional wisdom are great, but isn't it more important that you find a pediatrician who listens to you as the parent and can help you make the best decision for your family, instead of just blindly following some preset rules?

I ask this, as I'm 7 months pregnant with my first, and need to find a pedatrician who won't make me crazy. Especially since I seem to do too much reading and research on my own, and have found a lot of studies questioning "conventional wisdom" on a variety of topics, from vaccine schedules to introducing solid foods and how it connects to food allergies, etc. I'd like to find someone who will work with me instead of judging me.

Any tips? Or can we make this a topic for a different day?

Posted by: JHBVA | February 27, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, but Moxie makes a good point that there is a big difference between "conventional wisdom" and scientific evidence. I'm not going to jump all over Stacey, because it sounds like she looked into it pretty thoroughly and talked it over with her doctor. But I definitely don't put "back to sleep" in the same category as "spare the rod and spoil the child" or "don't let your kid get used to falling asleep in the car or they'll never get to sleep on their own."

Conventional wisdom works well, a lot of the time -- if your kid fits the conventional mold. My boy is like that; all of the standard advice for dealing with tantrums, food, timeouts, sleep, etc. works like a charm. My daughter, not so much. She was the kid who had persistent 45-minute tantrums, who would go nuts because the tag on her shirt itched, who was terrified of loud noises (literally couldn't go to the beach because of the noise of the waves), etc. For three years, I read all the books, asked the doctors, tried all the standard approaches -- and felt like a complete failure. I'm forever grateful to the "Spirited Child" book, which helped me realize that she was just built differently than most kids, and so needed some different approaches to things.

To channel jezebel, every kid is different. You have to find what works for yours. Conventional wisdom can be a good starting point, because it usually reflects what works for most kids in most circumstances. But not all kids, all the time.

Posted by: laura33 | February 27, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Consider using a family practioner instead of a pediatrician. All 4 of us have the same doctor and it is great--have developed a wonderful relationship with our doctor over the years as he knows the whole family. If mom and baby are both sick, it is great to be able to be seen by the same doctor. Plus the kids are teenagers now and we didn't have to find a new doctor for them because they were too old for the pediatrician.

Posted by: hockeymom3 | February 27, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

JHBVA, interview some pediatricians. That's what we did. Most of them are happy to set up appointments to meet with you. You can discuss your feelings on these issues and find out their feelings on them and see if you get along.

As to the original question, a lot of times you go with your gut. Every baby/child and every parent is different so you have to figure out what works best for you. Sometimes that goes against the "latest research" but if it works for you and your family, then you do what you need to do.

Posted by: dennis5 | February 27, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

My twins were 3 1/2 months preemie and had SEVERE reflux. The nurses in the NICU had been putting them to sleep on their tummies for over 4 months. When we brought the girls home, they had heart monitors strapped to their chests. Anytime we would lay the girls on their bellies, the alarm would go off. The girls would still be breathing and not be in distress, but for some reason the monitor could not pick up a decent heartbeat and/or breathing pattern. So even if a baby was laying on my chest and I could see/feel her breathing the monitor would sound the VERY LOUD alarm! As a result, the girls had to learn how to sleep on their backs and their reflux took months to go away. We ended up using a wedge to incline the crib mattresses or having them sleep at almost a 45 degree angle in the bouncy seat (oh, yes - they slept in those ALOT!)

Posted by: LBH219 | February 27, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

We just broke the "no peanuts before two" rule. That never made sense to me - it seems to me like exposing kids to something at a very young age would make them LESS likely to develop an allergy. Originally I was going to stick with the docs recommendation, but then I saw one small article that said a recent study questioned the benefit of holding off until two. I decided to throw caution to the wind and let him have some peanut butter.

Posted by: sdb1 | February 27, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

sdb: actually, I think some people think you're right. I have friends from Israel, and there's this very popular peanut snack, they said kids start eating it very young, and there's little problems with peanut allergies. Of course, you never know - we're working with a different population here, so it could be somewhat due to that.

re: pediatrician...I had appointments with them too. Then I had to go into the hospital at 34 or so of the questions the nurses asked at admission was 'who's your pediatrician' - I was so crazed that i was there in the first place, i almost started to cry, and finally got out: my appointments with them are in two weeks! They were so wonderful and helped me choose of the list I had (they know them all quite well).

So then we ended up going with a dr. who left the practice when my oldest was 3 weeks or so - we didn't follow her, and got another doctor who i can't say enough about. advice...pick a doctor (go to meet with them, get advice from friends, your obgyn, etc) - and know that if you don't like the doctor - you can change. Nothing will be a problem, and you need to feel comfortable with the doctor.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 27, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

My advice for picking anything kid-related (daycares, doctors, toys, etc.) is to ask friends with kids what/who they like.

My 6-week old is currently napping on her tummy next to my desk here. I will put her on her tummy during the day, but I still cannot bring myself to put her on her tummy at night. She will not sleep in her crib on her back, so I asked the pediatrician at her 2-week appointment whether letting her sleep at night in her bouncy chair was okay. He told me that many newborns won't sleep in their cribs on their backs, and several end up preferring the swing or bouncy chair.

Posted by: skm1 | February 27, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

JHBV - fwiw here are my tips on finding a ped. You should always do an interview, if they won't meet with you, then they aren't likely to listen to you. Also, ask about access to their nurses. Some peds. have you leave a message and the nurse will call you back, others allow you to reach a nurse on the phone directly. I highly recommend the later. I had two early babies both with reflux and lots of fears and questions. Being able to talk to a nurse directly and decide whether to wait or have the child seen has been wonderful. Also ask about their scheduling. Kids get sick quickly and turn surprisingly, so you want someone who will get you in when you need to be seen. Finally, look for someone who respects your mommy instinct (if you don't have it yet, you will get it). My ped always takes it seriously when I say "I don't know what it is, but something is wrong". As a mother, you will know when things aren't right with your child. Good luck and don't be afraid to switch if they don't work out.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 27, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Seriously, moxie.
I said something to my ped once like: but what do I know...and he responded: you're the mom, your with your kid all the time - you know a lot!

That reconfirmed my idea that this was a great ped for us.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 27, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

JHBVA: Everyone's giving you lots of good advice. In addition, we talked about finding a pediatrician about a year and a half ago. Here's a link to that discussion:

Good luck!

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | February 27, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Thanks to all for the advice on picking a pediatrician. Since it's a slow day at work, I'm about to go read the previous discussion Stacy linked to - THANKS!

As to foods - while I'm too lazy to go find the articles again, there is ever increasing research that introducing most foods one at time, the way we do in the US, is actually a probable cause of food allergies. The US has the highest incidence of food allergies in the developed world, and we have the most restrictive guidelines on what young children should eat. In most of the world, once you get the kids onto solid food at all, you just feed the kids whatever the adults are eating. The theory is, it prevents the body from building antibodies in response to any one thing, because there is rarely "any one thing". Peanuts were a specific example also - the US recommends holding off on them, and the US has the highest incidence of allergies. Not just a coincidence.

I figure I'll wait to meet my kid and see how she handles things before deciding on my own approach, but I find that the US medical establishment is often behind in new technologies and research, in part thanks to the FDA. And advice for young children is just one more area where our physicians either don't have the time to read the new research, or are disincented from considering other points of view.

Posted by: JHBVA | February 27, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I split the difference and put my daughter on her side to sleep. Then when she started rolling over she started sleeping on her tummy a lot, but since she could roll over I didn't worry about it.

What I do [gasp] is use blankets in her crib, since the sleep sack, though essential given her wandering ways, just doesn't keep her warm enough during these cold nights. I realize this violates the SIDS-prevention guidelines, but I'd prefer my baby not to get chilled, and I'd also like to keep my gas bill from being astronomical.

Posted by: foreoki12 | February 27, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad that your children lived. SIDS has always been rare, but instances of it decreased over 80% after children started sleeping on their backs. I would not risk my child's life for my own convienence but I also didn't drink or smoke during pregnancy. I know this sounds awfully judgmental, but my 5 month old is so precious to me that I can't imagine engaging in risky behavior just to get some extra sleep. I was sleep deprived too.

Posted by: L8yF8 | February 27, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse


Though putting babies on their backs probably has helped reduce SIDS rates quite a bit, another probably more important factor is the tremendous decline of smoking in homes with babies.

My baby has been big and strong from day one, so I don't worry about her lacking the strength to breathe on her belly. A baby who is weak and/or does have parents who smoke, should probably always sleep on his back.

As with everything else in this sphere, individual circumstances matter.

Posted by: foreoki12 | February 27, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you Stacey, even though you don't want to through caution to the wind-- you have to make choices that fit your family. As a mother of a 25 year old, (who had a wedge head for years due to having her sleep on her back) and a 12 year old, I have seen the trends in what pediatricians recommend sway back and forth. As with any parenting issue it is important to be discerning when you evaluate the information you receive!!

Posted by: coachjamie | February 27, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Conventional wisdom should be secondary to trusting one's own instincts or feelings. I will never, ever, ever forgive or forget the idiot pediatrician (covering for our regular one who was out sick) at older son's two-year well child check-up.

DH, the SAHP in our family, questioned himself for a couple of years after that appointment, and our son didn't get his autism diagnosis, or appropriate services, until he was 6 1/2. DH asked at the appointment about the boy's delayed language development, and the ped looked him right in the eye and answered, "Well, do you talk to him?" And that was all! Just guilt-trip and undermine the parent, deny that there's any problem, and then - because the bozo was our regular ped's supervisor, she was a Nurse Practitioner, not MD - he made sure that she couldn't do anything further.

Our instincts were right, and the jerk was wrong. I'm happy to say that he no longer treats any children at our HMO. Our regular NP ped left too, when she couldn't stand his meddling with her patients anymore.

And we *eventually* got both kids to the Neurological and Developmental Pediatric Specialist as our regular pediatrician. He was great. Besides really knowing and explaining our older son's issues and helping us navigate the various services, he totally *got* younger son's unique situation with his big brother.

When he retired last year, he made sure our kids got the new N&D Ped Specialist, instead of a regular ped with limited knowledge and experience with autism.

If conventional wisdom doesn't apply to your kid - throw it out. And don't hesitate to fire any ped who doesn't support his patients' parents.

Posted by: SueMc | February 27, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I let DD sleep with a teddy bear about her size when she 9 months old. It was the only way she would sleep through the night.

She held on to it very tightly but was able to soothe herself and fall asleep. Otherwise she was up crying every two hours. She always slept on her back or side.

Even now at 7 years old when she needs comfort I remind her to hold a teddy bear when she sleeps. It continues to comfort her to this day.

Posted by: shdd | February 27, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

For our first daughter, we ended up co-sleeping for the first month. It was a matter of necessity; before she was born, apparently she had gotten used to the pressure caused by my snuggling up against my husband while I was pregnant, and that was a source of comfort to her as a newborn. We joke that she was a "daddy's girl" from minute one; when my husband had to work a midnight shift, I was in for it! She wouldn't stop crying for hours on those nights because she missed him on the other side. That only lasted until she was a month old, and then we were able to move her to her bassinet. When she started sleeping through the night a month later, into her own room she went (and into her room I'd go ten times a night to chase my husband out because he kept looking in on her to make sure she was still breathing!)

With our second daughter, her car seat became her favorite nap spot for the first three months during the daytime. I didn't fight it; my options were put her in the bassinet and listen to her fuss forever, or let her crash in the car seat and enjoy the quiet!

Once both our kids got on solid food, we just cut up or mashed whatever we were eating and let them chow down on that. It works better, and it's a lot cheaper than buying those Gerber Graduates meals that are basically high-price versions of the same stuff that grownups enjoy! Our younger one has already tasted peanut butter, but that's an occupational hazard of having a first-grader in the house. Trying to keep her and her peanut butter and jam sandwiches away from our almost-two-year-old is like trying to hold back the Pacific Ocean with a fork. I just go with it, and watch to make sure the younger one doesn't overdo it when she takes a bite.

As far as blankets in the crib goes, I've learned to use thick sleepers or pajamas with both kids. So far, the younger one has continued the older one's infant/toddler habit of kicking the covers off at night, so it's just something else we go with and adapt to.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | February 27, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

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