Dear Mom, if you’ve stumbled to this page, let me tell you right away:
Worrying about your baby breathing and whether they may suddenly stop is perfectly normal. I did it for 5 months on end and used to check his breathing whenever I woke up at night.
Sadly, SIDS happens, although incredibly rarely, and worrying about it and trying to prevent it is perfectly normal.
However, what isn’t normal — or functional — is feeling anxious about your baby’s breathing, to the point where you can’t take care of either of the two of you.
But how do you distinguish between normal worrying and debilitating anxiety? How do you move from one to the other? And what practical things can you do to help keep your baby safe?
I’ll cover everything, and you can jump to the part that interests you most, if you don’t have the time to go through it all.
You can also schedule a coaching session with yours truly, a psychologist mom who’s been through postpartum anxiety and knows what it’s like.
Worrying About Baby’s Breathing vs Anxiety
It may sound weird when I say that it’s okay to worry, but not to feel anxious. Aren’t they the same negative thing?
Well, no — far from it. The psychotherapy line I specialize in believes that negative feelings are perfectly okay to feel, so long as they’re healthy. I covered all of this in my quite long anxiety guide, but in short:
- Healthy negative feelings don’t debilitate you, and they allow you to act. If you’re feeling worried, you can still go about your day, all the while figuring out functional ways to solve the cause of your worry.
- Anxiety is excruciating. It occupies every thought you think, every thing you do, and you simply cannot function properly. You’ll realize you have no idea what you’ve been doing for the last 10 minutes or half an hour, because all you could think about is the source of your anxiety. When you’re an anxious mom, it affects the way you’re able (or rather, not fully able) to take care of your baby.
- There are physical signs to help you differentiate between the two as well. Anxiety manifests via your chest clenching, your heart racing, sweating, shaking… When you’re worried, there’s no such thing.
So, you’ve recognized you’ve got anxiety rather than feeling worried about baby breathing at night, and you want to fight it.
Where you you start?
How to stop feeling anxious about your baby’s breathing
Let’s get it out into the open right away: Googling is not the answer! (Well, unless coming to this page counts as Googling). Catastrophizing and looking up SIDS incidence rates, testimonials, worst case scenarios is only going to amplify your anxiety, not make it go away.
The thing with anxiety is, we convince ourselves that if we get to learn everything about the thing that makes us feel anxious, our anxiety will disappear. But anxiety isn’t about knowledge, it’s about our ability to accept uncertainty.
Solving anxiety, whether through self-work or psychotherapy (and I wholeheartedly recommend the latter for best possible results) can be done in just a few steps:
- Pinpoint the irrational belief that causes your anxiety. In the case of baby breathing anxiety, it could be “I cannot leave my baby’s side for a single minute or they’ll stop breathing!”
- Challenge it by providing counter-arguments, such as: Where’s the proof of this? Why do you think your baby is the one who will go through this, out of all the babies in the world? If your baby is perfectly healthy otherwise and you are doing all the smart things you should do to keep them breathing, why are you so certain of this?
- Keep challenging it by understanding the consequences this belief has on you and your life.
- Once this belief is challenged, replace it with a rational one. “There is a very minor chance that my baby may stop breathing during the night. But this chance is so small it’s virtually infinitesmal, and it’s further lowered by me doing everything I can to keep them safe. All I can realistically do is love them and care for them, so I can be the best mom for them, rather than being so anxious I can’t focus on loving them.”
As moms, we all tend to worry about our babies when they are sleeping. After all, SIDS is a thing that does happen. But given how rarely it happens, believing there’s a much bigger chance of it happening than what the actual numbers tell you ends up making you anxious and unable to function.
Beyond Anxiety: Practical Advice
Once you’re able to turn your anxiety into a completely understandable state of worry, you’ll be able to realistically look at what you can do to protect your child, and make sure they’re breathing and well.
How to Prevent SIDS
There are several things you can do to lower the chance of your baby having breathing issues:
- Take them to regular check-ups to make sure they’re healthy.
- Don’t smoke around them. Ideally, don’t smoke in the room they’re at, don’t bring them to rooms where people smoked, and don’t touch them (or let others touch them) before washing their hands and changing their clothes, if they’re smokers.
- Make sure you’re keeping their environment at a temperature of 18-22 Celsius. Babies should not be overheating!
You can find the entire list of how to lower the chance of SIDS here.
Finally, if you’re unable to calm down and function properly, you can get an Owlet monitor sock. It will alert you if any of your baby’s vitals aren’t right, so you can know they’re fine without the need to be awake with them all night long.