In this article on reducing the risk of SIDS, we will look at the causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and the best ways to prevent SIDS in babies, to help keep your precious little one safe.
When a baby younger than 12 months of age dies during sleep without any warning signs or an apparent reason, the death is classified as SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This is a nightmare for parents, and to date, the medical community has not been able to find a 100% foolproof way of preventing it.
However, there are various things you can do that will substantially lower the risk of SIDS.
Keep reading to find out the latest findings on SIDS and the latest advice from the experts on reducing the risk of SIDS.
Why do Infants Sometimes Stop Breathing in their Sleep?
Experts think that babies who succumb to SIDS have an immature arousal center in their brain that prevents them from waking up when they can’t breathe.
Next, we will look at the main SIDS risk factors.
Who is Most at Risk?
- SIDS can occur in babies up to 12 months of age. However, the peak danger period is between two months and four months.
- Babies born prematurely, and those with a low-birthweight, are at an increased risk for SIDS.
- SIDS risk is higher for infants who are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke.
- Two out of every five SIDS victims are female, and three are male.
- African-American and Native-American infants are two to three times more likely to be victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Infants whose siblings or close relatives have fallen victim to the syndrome are at an increased risk for SIDS.
- Babies with brain defects that hinder breathing and arousal from sleep are at a higher risk for SIDS.
- Infants with impaired breathing caused by a respiratory infection are more likely to die from SIDS.
Reducing the Risk Of SIDS
Following the safe sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1992 and their Back to Sleep campaign launched in 1994, the SIDS rate has gone down by over 60%. In 1990, 143.5 SIDS deaths per 100,000 babies were reported. By 2015 this had dropped to 39.4.
These days, an estimated 3,500 babies die annually from SIDS in the US. This works out to approximately 31 deaths per 100,000 babies. Even one death is too many, and much can be done to prevent SIDS. In fact, almost all deaths from the syndrome are strongly linked to preventable causes.
Next, we will look at the latest information regarding how to prevent SIDS.
- Sleeping position
Medical researchers have determined that one of the best ways to prevent SIDS is to put your baby on their back on a firm, flat, well-fitting mattress to sleep.
There’s an increased risk for SIDS when a baby sleeps on his or her side or stomach. When placed face down, the baby will be re-inhaling oxygen-depleted air, and their risk of SIDS is 2.5 times greater. If put on their side, they could roll over and end up with their face flat down against the mattress.
Be sure to tell others who take care of your baby such to place them onto their back to sleep. This is very important, as the risk of SIDS increases when a baby who usually sleeps on their back is laid down on their side or stomach to sleep.
When your child gets to about six months of age, they may roll over during the night. By then, they will usually have the brain development and the strength to change position if they have trouble breathing. It is still best to place them in their bed on their back until they are one year old.
NB: It’s a common misconception that babies choke when sleeping on their backs. Choking during sleep is extremely rare, but if you are at all concerned, check with your pediatrician.
Babies should not be allowed to sleep in a car seat, a swing, or a stroller. The straps on these could strangle the baby, causing suffocation.
Babies should not sleep on couches either, as there is the risk that they could become trapped between the back and seat cushions and suffocate.
The right bedding goes a long way toward reducing the risk of SIDS.
Loose sheets and other bedding items including blankets in your babies crib pose an increased risk for SIDS. If you want to use blankets, tuck them in around the crib mattress. This will prevent them from covering the baby’s face. Alternatively, invest in an infant sleep sack. This is similar in appearance to a sleeping bag. It will keep your baby warm, and there won’t be the risk of it covering their face.
Another precaution that will lower the risk of SIDS is to keep all soft objects including stuffed toys, comforters, quilts, pillows, sheepskins, and the like, away from your baby’s sleeping environment. If you want to use bumper pads in the crib, keep them well-secured, and avoid pillow-like pads. All of these pose a suffocation risk.
One of the best ways to prevents SIDS is to give your baby a pacifier when putting them to bed and to do so until they are twelve months old. This is now recommended by the AAP, with studies having shown that this simple measure cuts the risk by 90%.
The reason for its effectiveness is thought to be that a pacifier will stop the baby from sleeping as deeply. And the handle will prevent the baby’s face from pressing into their mattress is they roll over.
The pacifier should only be given to the baby if or she is willing to take it. In other words, don’t force it on your baby. If they do accept it, don’t put it back in their mouth after they fall asleep.
NB: Make sure to keep the pacifier clean and buy a new one once the nipple shows wear.
- Don’t co-sleep
Another way of reducing the risk of SIDS is to have your baby sleep in the same room as you, but not in the same bed. Studies have confirmed that it is dangerous for an infant to sleep in the same bed as an adult or another child.
The reason is that a blanket or pillow could cover their face and suffocate them, or you could accidentally roll onto them in your sleep. The child’s head, body, or a limb could also become wedged between the headboard and mattress.
It’s okay to bring your baby to your bed to comfort or feed them, but be sure to put them back into their crib or cradle when they are ready to sleep. This way they will be close enough for you to keep an eye on them, without any of the risks of co-sleeping.
Click here to read about the pros and cons of co-sleeping. If you decide that you want to enjoy the benefits of co-sleeping without the potential risks, the Halo Bassinest is an excellent option as it allows you to have your baby beside you but in a separate space. (Click on the previous link to read a review.)
NB: Do not nap on a couch or in an armchair with your baby.
- Refrain from smoking, taking drugs, and drinking alcohol
To prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, mothers-to-be should not smoke during pregnancy.
Research has shown that if you smoke while pregnant, you will put your baby at increased risk for SIDS. It is also important to avoid secondhand smoke exposure. Along with reducing the risk of SIDS, this will provide a healthy environment for your baby.
Taking drugs and drinking alcohol should also be avoided at all costs.
- Breastfeed if possible
Another way of reducing the risk of SIDS is to breastfeed if you can.
Studies have shown that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of SIDS significantly. One major study confirmed that breastfeeding for two to four months cuts SIDS by 40%. Breastfeeding for between four and six months reduces the risk by 60%. Breastfeeding your baby for longer than six months reduces the risk of SIDS by 64%.
Research is currently underway to determine the exact reason for this. Current opinion attributes it to the presence of various beneficial nutrients in breast milk.
NB: Do not breastfeed when you are tired, as if you fall asleep you could accidentally suffocate your baby.
- Avoid overheating
Overheating poses an increased risk of SIDS.
When you put your baby to bed, make sure they are wearing light clothing and that the nursery is not too hot. The ideal temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Over-bundling is another of the significant and often overlooked SIDS risk factors. Touch your baby before leaving putting him to bed to nap or sleep to make sure he or she isn’t hot to the touch. Dressing the baby in light layers so that you can quickly remove or add a layer if need be.
Do not place a heater near the crib.
Final Words on Reducing Risk of SIDS
There are a variety of commercial devices available that claim to be effective at reducing the risk of SIDS. Included among these are mattresses, pillows, crib tents, bedding such as blankets and bumpers, sleep positioners, and baby monitors.
None of these items are FDA approved, and it is unknown whether or not they will work in real-life conditions. This being the case, using these devices may give you a false sense of security, which could inadvertently increase the risk of SIDS.
Currently, the tips outlined above offer your best defense against SIDS. If you’d like more information on the causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and how to prevent it, consult with a healthcare professional.