Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant under one year of age due to unexplained causes. Sadly, SIDS is still the number one killer of infants under age one—over 2,500 babies die each year.
So, what causes SIDS? Scientists don’t know, despite studying the problem for two decades. We do know that SIDS is a threat during the first year of life, with a peak occurrence between one and six months. SIDS also affects more boys than girls, and the SIDS rate in African American babies is twice that of Caucasians. Despite the mystery surrounding SIDS, researchers have discovered several factors that dramatically lower the risk of SIDS. Here is what you can do:
- Put your baby to sleep on her back. Infants should be placed on their back (not side or tummy) each time they go to sleep. Since the campaign to get parents to put baby to sleep on their backs began in 1991, the SIDS rate has fallen by 50%. That’s the good news. The bad news: while parents are heeding the message, other caregivers (That is, grandma or day care centers) are less vigilant. Be sure to tell all your baby’s caregivers that baby is to sleep on his back, never his tummy.
- Encourage tummy time. When awake, baby should spend some time on their tummy. This helps prevent flat heads caused by lying on their backs (positional plagiocephaly). Very your child’s head position while sleeping (such as, turning his head to the right during one nap and then the left during the next nap). Minimize time spent in car seats (unless baby is in a car, of course!), wings, bouncer seats or carriers—any place baby is kept in a semi-upright position. A good goal: no more than an hour or two a day. To learn more about plagiocephaly, go online to plagiocephaly.org.
- Forget gadgets. Special mattresses, sleep positioners, breathing monitors—none have been able to reduce the risk of SIDS, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Just put baby to sleep on her back.
- Use a pacifier. Consider giving baby a pacifier, which has been shown in studies to reduce the rate of SIDS. Why? Scientists don’t know exactly, but some speculate pacifiers help keep the airway open. Okay, we should acknowledge that pacifiers are controversial—key concerns include breastfeeding interference, tooth development and ear infections. But if you introduce the pacifier after breastfeeding is well-established (around one month), there are few problems. Stop using the pacifier after one year (when the SIDS risk declines) to prevent any dental problems. While pacifiers do increase the risk of ear infections, ear infections are rare in babies when the risk of SIDS is highest (under six months old). Bottom line: Use pacifiers at the same time of sleep starting at one month of life for breastfed babies. If the pacifiers falls out once the baby is asleep, don’t re-insert it. Stop using pacifiers once the risk of SIDS is over (about a year of life).
- Don’t smoke or overheat the baby’s room. Smoking during pregnancy or after the baby is born has shown to increase the risk of SIDS. Keep baby’s room at a comfortable temperature, but don’t overheat (do not exceed 70 degrees in the winter; 78 in the summer). Use a sleep sack or swaddle baby in a blanket.
- Bed sharing: bad. Room sharing: good. Why does bed sharing increase the risk of SIDS? Scientists say the risk of suffocation in adult linens (pillows, etc.) or entrapment between bed frame and mattress, or by family members is a major contributor to SIDS. That said, room sharing (having baby in the same room as the parents, either in a bassinet or a product like the Arm’s Reach Bedside co-sleeper) is shown to reduce the rate of SIDS. Again, researchers don’t know exactly why, but it’s possible parents are more attuned to their baby’s breathing when baby is nearby.
- No soft bedding. Baby’s crib or bassinet should have a firm mattress and no soft bedding (quilts, pillows, stuffed animals, etc). Bumpers are optional—we will discuss this topic in the next chapter.
Make sure all other caregivers follow these instructions. Again, you might be vigilant about back-sleeping…but if another caregiver doesn’t follow the rules, your baby could be at risk. Make sure your day care provider, grandma or other caregiver is on board.
Excerpt taken from Baby Bargains by Denise & Alan Fields, “Chapter 2: Nursery Necessities” pgs 90, 91.