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Baby Sleep Expert Shares Tips For Keeping Babies Safe While Sleeping


For over a decade, inclined sleepers or bassinets were a must-have for exhausted parents to put their babies in. One of the most popular was Fisher-Price's Rock 'n Play. But last spring, Consumer Reports revealed how unsafe these types of portable sleepers were - that at least 73 infants had died, and more than a thousand babies had been injured. A government recall soon followed.

At the time, we spoke with baby sleep consultant Alexis Dubief, who wrote the book "Precious Little Sleep" and runs the Facebook group of the same name. She'd once been an advocate of using, quote, "sleep tools" like swings and incline sleepers to help babies learn to fall asleep on their own. She's now revised her recommendations, and she joins us now to talk about them.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are a big guru for baby sleep. You have a huge following. And you used to be an advocate for using swings and other products that prop babies up. How did you feel when you realized this may have been dangerous advice?

DUBIEF: It was horrifying. It is a huge challenge. And that - what we look at when we look at swings is really, like, the first few months, when things are...


DUBIEF: ...Catastrophically bad for most parents, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Terrible - let's be honest. Yeah.

DUBIEF: It's really bad. And the challenge we have is, how do we survive this? - because what happens is parents know that the gold standard for safety is the crib - an empty crib with an infant on their back. This is where all of our babies should be. This is the safest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And yet it is so hard...

DUBIEF: And yet...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...To get them to do that.

DUBIEF: You end up with infants who won't stop crying, who are waking up every 30 minutes, who will only sleep while held. Like, how long can this continue before people hit the wall? And I think the challenge we have is we don't have any good comparative risk data to go, well, what is plan B?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your latest post is titled "What We Learned From The Rock 'N Play Recall." And from the start, you say this story is bigger than just the recall. It's about choices the exhausted parents make. And you're now recommending how parents should help their babies learn to sleep independently without being rocked or bounced. What are those recommendations?

DUBIEF: So newborns are born without a well-developed circadian rhythm. And the circadian rhythm is why we sleep at night and are awake during the day. So without that, newborns basically nap 24 hours a day. So it is normal for a newborn to wake up every two hours all day long and all night long. And that, unfortunately, is a developmental milestone. And we need to have survival plans.

And I advocate for sleeping in shifts to - how do we get through this period where the circadian rhythm is basically coming online? And once that has happened, which for most babies is around two months, they are absolutely capable of independent sleep. And the reality is we have convinced ourselves that they're incapable, that they cannot do this basic human function and that we must suffer because they're so little itty-bitty. And, you know, of course they can't do this without our help, but they can.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So shifts is one thing that you recommend. What are some of the other tools that parents can safely use?

DUBIEF: Well, the big ones, of course, for newborns are white noise, swaddling and pacifiers. And pacifiers are an amazingly powerful tool. Swaddling is great. You know, white noise, no louder than 50 decibels, which is roughly the volume of someone taking a shower - these are your big tools.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are still some incline sleepers on the market. And the Consumer Report's investigation says that the Consumer Product Safety Commission knew babies died in these products and still didn't act. In your new guidelines, you advise against using inclined swings for unattended sleep. Then there are flat swings, bouncy seats and bassinets with continuous motion that have been on the market for years. How can a parent truly know if they're safe?

DUBIEF: Honestly, they can't. So my advice is to not use swings at all anymore because babies will fall asleep in them, and you don't want your infant in any device where you have to worry that they might stop breathing - right? - even if you're paying attention. Now, what we've learned from this whole process is that the way that we learn if baby products are safe or not is, we introduce a new product, and we wait and see what happens, which is basically live human testing. It is enormously concerning. Cribs have been around for hundreds of years. We've got a long track record of safety data to look at. So that's my advice. Stick with the crib, stick with a motionless bassinet and wait and see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Alexis Dubief, baby sleep consultant. Thank you very much.

DUBIEF: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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