Despite decades of research, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among children between the ages of one month to one year. As the name suggests, SIDS happens without warning—a sudden, unexplained death that occurs during sleep. What makes SIDS so terrifying is the lack of understanding as to why this syndrome claims 2,000 lives in the United States each year.
SIDS deaths are tragic because even though a parent does everything right, it can still happen. The exact cause remains unknown. What we do know is that several risk factors combined put children in jeopardy. While there is no way to prevent SIDS 100%, there are several ways to reduce the risk for your baby. SIDS safety begins with these 16 recommendations.
Don’t put a baby to sleep on his stomach because he will experience more difficulty breathing. For the same reason, don’t place your baby to sleep on his side because he could roll over onto his stomach. If your baby has a rare medical condition that requires him to sleep on his stomach, follow your pediatrician’s recommendations. Otherwise, place a healthy baby face up while sleeping.
Ensure all of your baby’s caregivers follow this practice. Even if it’s for a short nap, babies should always sleep face up. In fact, a baby who is used to sleeping face up is at an even higher risk if placed face down.
Once your baby starts rolling both ways (from back to stomach and stomach to back,) it is okay for him to choose his own sleeping position. Rolling on his own should happen around six months of age.
It may seem harmless for a baby to fall asleep on a soft bed or a couch, but cushioned surfaces can impair an infant’s breathing. A newborn has not yet developed strength in the head and neck muscles, and a soft surface can smother an infant’s face.
Ensure that your baby’s mattress if firm and flat. If your infant falls asleep in a baby swing or car seat, move him to a flat surface as soon as possible.
All your baby needs in a crib is a fitted sheet. Make sure it’s tight fitting as a baby can suffocate in loose material.
Remove blankets, pillows, crib bumpers, and any other soft item or bedding. Blankets and toys may seem cozy for a crib, but they are major hazards when it comes to SIDS safety. A quilt or a stuffed animal can obstruct a child’s airway. Keep soft objects away so that your baby doesn’t become tangled or smothered.
Experts are not sure why a pacifier lowers a baby’s risk, but it is believed to help prevent SIDS. If your baby is nursing, don’t introduce a soother until breastfeeding is well under way or at least until your infant is one month old. A pacifier given too early can cause nipple confusion.
If your infant rejects the soother, don’t force it. If he takes it, place the pacifier in his mouth when you lay him down to sleep on his back. If the soother falls out while he’s sleeping, do not put it back in his mouth. You may not have planned to use a pacifier with your child, but if it can help avoid a potentially fatal event, it’s worth trying.
Co-sleeping raises the risk of SIDS because of the soft surfaces that surround a bed or a couch. Also, parents and other children can accidentally smother babies while sleeping. This risk can easily be avoided by not sharing a bed with your newborn.
Although bed-sharing is not advised, studies show that the danger of SIDS is reduced if the baby sleeps in his parent’s bedroom. If you bring your baby to the bed to breastfeed, make sure you place him back in his crib before you fall asleep.
New crib standards set by the CPSC require the mattress, crib slats, and hardware to be durable. To see if your crib complies with current standards, check the CPSC’s recall list. Also, ensure that all hardware is tightly secured, and there are no loose or broken parts. And, if your crib is older than 10 years, don’t use it.
An elevated body temperature is a risk factor for SIDS. Make sure your baby wears light clothing to bed. Also, make sure his crib is not near a heat source.
If you worry about your baby being too cool at night, dress him in a sleep sack. This sleeveless sack is similar to a sleeping bag, and safer than a blanket.
Experts cannot explain why, yet breastfeeding cut SIDS risk in half. It is believed that the antibodies in breast milk protect your baby from infection. This is why doctors urge all new mothers to breastfeed as long as possible. Also, if you breastfeed, do not consume alcohol or drugs, as these toxins will raise your infant’s risk.
Keep your distance from products on the market that claim to help protect your children from SIDS. None of these products have been proven effective. In fact, some of these useless gadgets, such as wedges and sleep positioners, have caused injury. Avoid all gimmicks that claim to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS.
It is not safe to give honey to a young child. A rare food poisoning known as botulism can result if an infant eats raw honey. Food-borne botulism and bacteria may be connected to SIDS.
Infants who have heart problems or difficulty breathing can benefit from the use of cardiorespiratory monitors. However, this equipment is not proven to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS.
Premature and multiple birth babies are at risk for SIDS. If your baby was born before 39 weeks or his birth weight was low, attend regular medical checkups to ensure your baby is developing well.
Studies show that infants who receive immunizations reduce their risk of SIDS by 50%. Babies who are not fully immunized increase their chances.