Saturday, April 7, 2012

Embracing Infant Safety Research Without Fear

There are a lot of things we're told as expectant mothers, and unless we're all reading the studies ourselves, it can be very, very hard to parse out what to embrace as serious guidance and what to consider "optional". I'm not a professional on this stuff, but I wanted to speak to how I navigate some of these choices.

Here's just a few safety recommendations: Babies should always be put on their backs to sleep. Cribs are not supposed to have drop sides, and slats have to be the perfect distance apart (these are fairly recent). Mobiles need to be far away, or not present at all. Never have a crib near a window. Mattresses should be very firm, and there shouldn't be any blankets or bumpers in the crib before 12 months of age (though your baby can be swaddled as a newborn). Breast pumps, crib mattresses, and car seats are all supposed to be bought new. The car seat needs to be rear facing, in the middle of the back seat, until our babies turn 2. There may be dodgy substances emitted by your new crib mattress, which could also be dangerous. The American Academy of Pediatrics is also against Water births (which has basis in water birth never having been subject to a randomized control trial) and ambivalent about Home births (which only has basis in the U.S. urban context, at most). They're also ambivalent about cosleeping.

I want to embrace good research (to the extent it's available) without embracing the overall regulation that often accompanies it. SIDs deaths are real and babies are vulnerable little creatures. 

Yet the underlying reasons that cribs seem to be recalled and blankets, bumpers and windows are such a problem seems related to social and cultural issues: sleeping far from our babies so that we don't notice distress (though I know we all need to leave our sleeping babies sometimes, and agree with the research that says they should be on their backs, far away from anything that could harm them). The pressure to buy items new seems related to social trust: did a user of the breast pump have Hepatitis? Was the car seat in an accident? Has the mattress been exposed to environmental toxins? The underlying fear of home births seems based in a strong interest to have a million backup plans (many technology-based) in the event something will go wrong.

I say "no!" to being motivated by these social pressures and fears, and also the sense that we can control all outcomes. At the same time, I say "yes!" to being as safe as we can be. We have a hospital five minutes away in case of emergency. I will take every precaution to keep my baby safe and healthy- at night, he'll sleep right next to me on very firm foam, without things that may suffocate him. I kept Noah in a rear facing car seat as long as I could handle it.

But in this, and all things, I acknowledge that there are many things we don't control. Rather than buying stuff to quell my fears, as I'm told to by various safety agencies, I want to accept that parenting involves fears and mistakes and losing control again and again.


Emily said...

The stuff emitted by mattresses was put there by the manufacturers, co-sleeping reduces SIDS risk (so does breastfeeding which is given a boost by baby's nearness), and homebirth has been proven in trials to be at least as safe as a hospital birth for healthy women - and VBAC safer than a repeat ceasar. It just takes a while for the statisticians to realize that we will actually notice that they only quote studies paid for by the people who pay them. My inner skeptic is so hard to live with, sigh. And pleased to announce that I'm ready for the post office tomorrow!!!! Amazing.

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