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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don’t lose sleep over parenting decisions

By Suzanne Perez Tobias

Parenthood is a secretive affair.

People don’t know what happens in your home at 3 in the morning — when the baby’s screaming and the dog’s barking and you’ve tried everything short of booze or Valium to get some sleep — unless you tell them.

Some of them come right out and ask.

“Is she sleeping through the night?” they’ll say, as if your bloodshot eyes and mismatched shoes aren’t answer enough.

Sleeping through the night? Sure, you think. She just wakes up every 30 minutes.

So you do what you can to make it till morning: You bring the baby to bed with you. You rock and pace and nurse for hours. You let them cry and put on earplugs. You curse. You pray. You scream into a pillow.

“Whatever gets you through the night,” goes the John Lennon song (and my parenting mantra). “’Salright, ’salright.”

The sun rises, and you carry on, seldom admitting or even remembering how things went down. Quiet — sweet, blessed silence, and whatever crafty machinations you employ to achieve it — is seldom discussed.

That’s how Rebecca Woolf began a recent entry on her popular mommy blog, Girl’s Gone Child:

“Everything is loud. … Everyone needs me. I can’t think with all of these sounds and all of these lists and all of these decisions I have to make.”

Then Woolf, a California mother of four, admitted doing something shockingly controversial to get her twin infant daughters to sleep:

She put them on their stomachs.

“There’s no other way that they will sleep,” Woolf writes. “I am told by reputable sources that I’m putting their lives at risk. I have been told by reputable sources all my life that what I’m doing is wrong because that’s how reputable sources work.

“They tag their hypotheses with the names of Ivy League research institutes and we all fall down on our knees out of fear that we know nothing and they know it all. … Their voices are loud with wisdom so we mustn’t trust our own.”

Can you believe that? She put her babies to sleep on THEIR STOMACHS! What kind of idiot puts a baby to sleep on her stomach after all the research and journal articles and “Back To Sleep” campaigns have linked stomach-sleeping to higher rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Who does that?!

Turns out, generations of mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

And me.

I have admitted a lot of things in this column, including nursing longer than the average Midwestern mom, bringing my babies to bed with me, buying sugary cereal and laughing when my toddler said a cuss word.

But this one, whispered only to my husband — “I know it’s wrong, but it’s the only way she’ll sleep!”— and later to our family doctor at Hannah’s 9-month checkup, is by far the scariest.

That doctor, by the way, patted me on the shoulder and said one of his babies was a stomach-sleeper, too. Shhhhh. Don’t tell anyone.

Like Woolf, I read the research and acknowledged the arguments. I knew there were many risk factors associated with SIDS, including sleep position, loose bedding, cigarette smoking in the home, age, gender and family history.

But in the dark of night, when my firstborn would startle awake like a baby bird the minute I put her on her back but coo softly and sleep for a few straight hours on her belly, I broke the rules. I trusted my instincts.

Hush little baby, don’t say a word.

Hannah’s a teenager now and loves to sleep. We joke that she’s making up for her first three years. Her brother, a back- and side-sleeper from birth, also rests easy.

Woolf caught some flak for her confession. I suppose I will, too. Before you call or write, believe me: I understand your point. I debated the risks for hours — OK, several minutes — at my baby’s bedside before falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion.

But here’s to instinct and honesty.

“None us are doing it ‘right,’ ” Woolf writes. “None of us are doing it ‘wrong.’ We’re all just doing it.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or

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