Haley has been sleeping on her tummy since week 2. She just didn't sleep well at all on her back. I really agonized over the decision, but I finally decided it was best for us. Here's why:
1. Babies slept on their tummies for a very long time before the Back to Sleep campaign. Yes, sometimes SIDS struck. But an awful lot of babies survived (me being one of them), so tummy sleeping is clearly not the only deciding factor.
2. I was told by someone who has done the research and whose advice I trust that the research showing that back sleeping decreased SIDS by 70% was mainly done on babies who sleep alone in a crib in a separate room from their parents. By co-sleeping, even with a bassinet beside our bed, we were "teaching" Haley how to regulate her breathing and wake herself throughout the night as needed, which decreased the risk.
3. We made sure there were no other risk factors, and we are always close by when she sleeps.
4. She had decent head control, as far as turning from side to side and not just landing on her face, pretty early on. Since we could see that she was able to turn her head, we felt much better about letting her sleep on her tummy. Now that she has even more head control, we worry even less.
5. A baby who doesn't sleep is a miserable baby with tired parents. We finally decided that if tummy sleeping worked for us and we understood the risk we were taking, that it was ok. Every parenting decision you make is likely to have some sort of risk, and at some point you just have to take a deep breath and do what you think is right.
Even Dr. Sears, who still dutifully recommends back sleeping as the preferred position, says on his website:
Unless advised to the contrary by your doctor, it is best to let your baby sleep in a position she prefers. If baby doesn't settle well, or stay on her back or side, front sleeping is all right. Also, you may find that your baby prefers different sleep positions at different ages. After all, there is a meaningful wisdom of the body, even in a baby. If a baby repeatedly doesn't settle in a certain sleeping position, this may be a clue that this position may not be the safest for this individual baby. This is just one example of how babies often try to tell us what is in their best interest. Parents should not be afraid to listen.
... If you've made a diligent effort to encourage back-sleeping and your baby still sleeps best on her stomach, let her, and don't fear that she is going to die of SIDS, especially if the other risk factors are not present. Studies on large numbers of babies show a statistical increase in SIDS if baby sleeps tummy-down, but your baby is an individual. The front-sleeping risk factor for SIDS doesn't mean that you should worry every time you place your baby down to sleep. Just be sure to place your baby to sleep on a safe bedding surface. After all, over 99.9 percent of tummy-sleeping infants wake up every morning.
(You can find more info at his site at askdrsears.com. He has suggestions for helping a baby adjust to back or side sleeping as well as lots of other good stuff.)
There are still evenings when I will sneak into the room an extra time to check on her and nights when I sit up in bed to peek in the bassinet, just to be sure she's ok. I still feel like a bad mommy sometimes. But I know I'm helping my baby sleep, which is a good thing. Trust your instincts. You're doing great!