LET’S TALK HEALTH — Maryam Khalfan — Is it safe for babies to sleep on their tummies? This is one of the frequently asked questions by a lot of parents who are within their early child bearing age. Also, if the same question is asked to senior generation of mothers, without doubt, the majority of them would definitely attest that they did so to silence fussy babies whenever they had stomach discomforts. Others did so whenever they wanted their babies to sleep comfortably without getting reflex — a common reaction in babies, which causes the limbs to startle all of a sudden.
Also, if you were to ask them whether they knew if it was risky for babies to sleep in such a position, they would definitely be on the defensive side on how the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. They would also affirm how cautious they were when it came to the safety of a baby whenever they slept in such a position.
Interestingly, the senior generation of mothers were also conversant with the dangers of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) — a condition, which occurs when an infant stops breathing during sleep and unexpectedly gives way to death. They knew that poor ventilation in a sleeping environment, overheating from excessive sleepwear and bedding, premature birth and infection would equally lead to SIDS.
Unfortunately, in families, where smoking was a norm, exposing children to such an environment was not considered a serious issue, in spite of the fact that the cause is among the risk factors of SIDS. Also dangerous from the ventilation perspective is when the sleeping environment of a baby is heavily circulated with smoke from burning frankincense and udd, which, regardless of the pleasant fumes it emits can be dangerous to the health of infants.
Equally hazardous looking at the ventilation perspective is when huge amounts of industrially manufactured air fresheners are sprayed in an enclosed sleeping environment of a baby. The respective environmental hazards pollute the air by making it heavy and is one of the contributory factors that leads to breathlessness.
In the Sultanate, extensive and frequent use of frankincense and udd is also one of the trigger factors of asthma among infants, according to specialist paediatricians.
But, if we are to debate on the subject, would a mother of the current generation put a child to sleep on the tummy? Whatever the answer may be letting babies sleep on their tummies without optimal attention is highly risky. For instance, in an incident that happened to a three-month-old child who had a liking to sleep on its tummy, the mother in her early years of marriage was relieved of her fussy baby whenever it went to sleep. However, on one of the evenings of the mishap, as usual, the mother put the child to sleep in its usual position with the head tilted on one side. She sat quietly by the side of the baby’s bed to browse through a magazine as she awaited for a call for Maghrib prayers. She often threw a glance at the baby to ensure that the child was in the right position. Soon after the call for prayers, she stood up to say her supplication before the child could get up. Then, she took a few steps from one room to another and back.
Unfortunately, even with the extra caution she had always taken, she was shocked to find that the child had slept on its face and suffocated to death within a few minutes of her absence. The child was rushed to the hospital, but all was in vain.
In fact, it was when I recently met the affected women at a family-get-together party that I regretfully learnt about the sad demise of the child. In this aspect, to prevent occurrence of SIDS among infants, ‘putting babies to sleep on their tummies, should be avoided for their safety’.