It is with a heavy heart that I write this. The news of another tragic trauma of a toddler in their own cot has come to light - the third in two months.
As a Baby Sleep Specialist, I am invited to attend the homes of parents with babies and toddlers to assist them with the sleep and settling of their children. It is a privileged look at the sleeping arrangements of their children.
When people ask about my work, I try to explain that it is like the comedy show ‘Thank God You Are Here’. Not only do I hear that phrase on my arrival, but I am dressed and ready for my role. Once I walk through that front door, I have no idea what awaits me. I am typically met by a lovely welcoming and albeit, tired mum, and on occasion their partner or grandmother as well. We greet and settle in and before we start helping the baby in question to sleep, I ask to be shown the sleep space where they would like their baby to sleep.
I am escorted to the parent’s room if a young baby or the baby’s own room for an older baby. At first glance, the rooms are clean and inviting, many may resemble a baby store catalogue with a theme of colours, prints and peppered with family photos, welcome cards and gifts. All the rooms that I see are arranged with love and the expectation of a healthy and happy baby to lay within this room, to sleep, rest and grow.
The parents never prepare their baby’s room to intentionally harm them. With my rested and objective eyes, it only takes seconds to see potential hazards that may affect their baby or other young children in the home.
It is with tact and gentleness that I go about identifying these risks to the parent, and move into action to remove or alter the current arrangements in order to reduce the risk of their baby being endangered in their sleep. I like to make sure that the safety changes are carried out before I leave so it is not added to the never ending ‘to-do’ lost of a new, tired parent.
The following are real life scenarios that I have encountered in my home visits.
- I was seeing a client in a very grand and old home. The size of the baby's bedroom was the biggest I had ever seen, almost half the size of a small house. As I scanned this elegantly minimalist room I viewed the cot up against the wall and could see electrical cords very near to the cot. In this old house, there was only one power point in the room and the cot was placed right next to it. A fan and a baby monitor were connected and live. The baby could easily reach the cords – a strangulation and electrocution risk.
I asked the mother if she would mind me moving the cot a metre further down the wall to remove this risk. Her face showed me that she was horrified that the cot had been so close to danger and worse still she had not identified it. In two seconds the situation was resolved.
- I came to a lovely home, and as is my practice, asked to see the baby’s room. I entered a small but charming little girl's room. The baby was 18-months-old and very mobile in her cot. The baby's mother had some months ago put a bumper in the cot to minimise the bumps to her daughter's head as the baby moved around her sleep space. It no longer stood upright but hung limply around the cot, tied at intervals to the cot bars.
When the mother noted that I was looking at the bumper, she jumped in and asked me if I was going to take away the bumper? When I told that I was, she was concerned for her baby's head. We then both looked into the cot where her baby had been playing while we were speaking and lifted up the bumper and put her head through a gap between the ties, as if she were playing peekaboo. My client was shocked as she had no idea that her baby had the ability to do this, and the bumper was removed very quickly. The cry in the night from an occasional bump on the head simply does not compare with a baby that does not wake in the morning due to a preventable danger.
- My business partner tells of her fright as she, too, was surveying the bed where the baby that she had come to see was going to be sleeping. Inside the cot was a small blow heater. The baby's mother - with good intention - was worried her baby was cold and that was the reason for the amount of night-wakings experienced by her baby. Not only is this a burning and overheating risk, but this style of heater sucks in air and may have sucked in the bedding from the cot causing a fire.
- With the growth of monitors and video monitors used with babies both Caroline and I are seeing the monitor or camera being placed in the actual cot, the electrical cords are there laying in the cot ready to be grabbed by the baby, and then pose a strangling danger. Monitors are designed to be placed in the baby's room and not their cots. If you wish to use a video camera to view your baby, place this on a stand away from the cot.
These are just a few of the examples of the dangers that we see in our everyday work.
Please don't for one minute think these safety oversights are because the parents do not care, are drug or alcohol affected or uneducated. Most parents will suffer fatigue and this is not proportionate to the level of wealth or education that they have. It is simply exhaustion, an oversight and it can happen to anyone, even you.
- Take the first step of checking the SIDS and KIDS website www.sidsandkids.org for the most current information on cot and safe baby sleep. Even if you have read the information before, read it again and reassure yourself that you have the current knowledge.
- Ask a trusted friend or family member to come in and look at your children's sleep spaces. Ask them if they can see anything that may compromise your baby's safety. You might even get a few mums from mother's group who understand what you are asking of them and do this as a group activity.
- Regularly make an inspection of your baby's room yourself before you leave them to sleep.
Hopefully with awareness we can all help each other to minimise the risks to our sleeping babies and be spared any further heartache to the beautiful families that have already been affected in this way.