Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a condition new parents fear, many having heard of it before their child is even born. When a child dies before the age of one and the reason for the death cannot be determined, it's often ruled as being a SIDS incident. SIDS usually occurs when a child is sleeping. In many cases, mom or dad puts her little one down for bedtime or for a nap and returns to find them unresponsive.
There are a million reasons for parents to fear SIDS, but one of the reasons it strikes such fear in parents is because it's so unexplained. Because of the randomness with which SIDS seems to strike, every parent feels their child may be a potential target, so parents feel helpless.
What we know about SIDS offers some insight, but most of these facts shine a spotlight on how horrible this condition is. Boys are more likely to die from SIDS than girls, and all babies are most vulnerable between the first and fourth month of life.
Around 20% of SIDS cases happen at daycare, a fact that is horrifying. However, even when a baby is with a parent, SIDS is a risk. Over a thousand babies die in the United States every year because of SIDS, and it's the number one killer of children between the ages of 30 days old to 12 months old.
SIDS is a multifaceted problem, and no one has a cure. However, there are a few details researchers have found over the years that can help reduce the chance of SIDS. New parents should be aware of these so they can implement them in their child’s life.
14 Make Sure Serotonin Is Normal
A fairly recent discovery is the effect of serotonin and its connection to SIDS. Serotonin in the brain controls important functions in adults and children, including heart rate, breathing, and making sure vital organs are controlled during sleep. Babies who passed away from SIDS were found to have lower levels of serotonin than babies who died for other reasons. Even the serotonin receptors had binding issues in the babies who died from SIDS.
Though researchers suspected for some time that issues in the brain were at least part of the reason SIDS occurred, the connection to a lack of serotonin has major implications. While it’s not 100% clear how to deal with this issue, there are a few ways to help make sure babies' serotonin levels stay high.
Exposing children to sunlight is a good idea because sunlight helps with vitamin D levels, and that helps with serotonin production. Of course, it’s important to make sure a child doesn’t get a sunburn, but it should be fine to get them out to play and let them receive some vitamins the natural way.
Massage has also been shown to raise a child’s serotonin levels. Gently massaging a baby can not only help calm them, but it can also hopefully offer them a bit of protection from SIDS.
13 Put Baby On Back To Sleep
SIDS is not the same as when a child suffocates, but that doesn’t mean creating a safe sleeping environment isn’t important. The Safe To Sleep Campaign works to educate parents about the best ways for their children to sleep to avoid SIDS, and sleeping on the back is their #1 recommendation.
Children who sleep on their stomachs are at higher risk for SIDS, and there are reasons researchers feel this is the case. If a child is low on serotonin or has another brain abnormality, they may not wake up when they aren’t getting enough oxygen. Usually the brain will let a baby know to wake up or move if they are lacking oxygen, but a problem in a baby’s arcuate nucleus may prohibit this from happening.
That makes stomach sleep more dangerous because babies are more likely to inhale their own stale air and lose access to oxygen if they're on their stomachs. The mattress can depress where the child’s head is, and this can keep air from circulating, so old air is recirculating. Placing a child on their back helps eliminate this problem.
A child sleeping on their stomach may also experience pressure on their airways, and that means they won’t be able to get enough air. Again, a baby’s brain should alert them, but if it doesn’t, a child can fall victim to SIDS.
12 Share A Room With The Baby
Parents spend months setting up a nursery with the perfect theme and paint color, and that’s fine. However, new research says that the safest place for a baby early in life is in his parents' room.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new recommendation saying babies should sleep in their parents’ room for six months, up to a year if possible. In fact, it’s now believed that this one small adjustment could reduce incidents of SIDS by half.
The key is comfort. Babies in an environment with another person may experience stimulation that a baby left in a room alone doesn’t. Plus, mom is close by to comfort baby which helps the child also feel more at ease.
Moms who share a room with their children are also more likely to breastfeed, a very important step to reducing SIDS. Though some parents were surprised to hear about this new recommendation, it offers good news for reducing occurrences of SIDS.
11 Breastfeed The Baby
Breastfeeding is pretty much good for all areas of mom's and baby's health. Babies receive nutrients, are less likely to be jaundice, and build their immune systems when mom breastfeeds, and it also bonds mom and child. It can also reduce the occurrence of SIDS by a whopping 70%!
There are many reasons for this staggering drop in SIDS among breastfed babies. Mom’s milk itself works a kind of magic, offering immunity and protection from respiratory and gut infections that can be connected to SIDS. Breastfeeding also provides a rhythm, a dance of two people interconnected by need and connectivity. Babies' sleep cycles usually end up being more organized because they wake up to eat based on their need for food and closeness. And this can cause them to have more organized nights or sleep times, which is when SIDS usually strikes.
Breastmilk is also good for a kid’s brain function. It contains ingredients that help build the central nervous system, and it’s been shown to help with brains of children born at any time, including preterm.
10 Offer A Pacifier
There’s always that one person who feels obligated to tell mom that giving her child a pacifier is a horrible mistake. They scare her with stories of how the child will never give the pacifier up, as if grown ups leave for college with their binkies. What these individuals don’t know is that a child who uses a pacifier make decrease their risk of SIDS.
The reasons for this are not fully understood, but in studies, children who slept with pacifiers died of SIDS less than those who did not. There is the rhythm of the sucking that might help keep a breathing cycle going, or rouse a child who would otherwise not stir when they weren’t receiving enough oxygen. There’s also the fact that pacifiers are bulky. It would be hard for an infant to press their face down into a soft crib mattress with a pacifier in the mouth.
If mom wants to breastfeed, its’ a good idea to hold off on pacifier use for a few weeks until her little one has a good latch. Otherwise, offer those pacifiers without worry.
9 Don’t Let Baby Overheat
Parents are constantly concerned about their child’s temperature, and that’s understandable. Babies are not great at regulating their body temperature, and for premature children, this can land them in the NICU. However, overheating a child carries dangers, and SIDS is one of them. When it comes to dealing with babies’ temperature, parents have to be careful and find that sweet spot.
A child who is bundled up in many clothes or covered in blankets is likely to overheat. The signs are sweating and having warm skin when mom touches baby to check on them. One risk with overheating is that hot, stale air will get trapped around a child’s head due to blankets or clothes that are too near the face. When this happens, a child will inhale this bad air, and that can lead to SIDS.
This is called re-breathing, and when people talk about the dangers of re-breathing, SIDS comes up. It’s a real risk, and in some cases it can be avoided.
Putting a child to bed in a onesie that is appropriate for the weather is fine. Mom should check in to see if her child is too hot or cold and adjust as needed, but never throw on a ton of layers and leave a child to sleep.
8 Space Out Children
It is probably strange for parents to find out that one way they can help reduce SIDS takes planning and happens before birth. The spacing of siblings is actually a factor, too.
Why? Because if mom doesn’t wait a certain amount of time to get pregnant again after having a child, the child she is pregnant with faces an increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Premature birth can affect brain development, lung development, and immune system development, all possible risk factors for SIDS. In fact, children who are born too early stand the chance of coming into this world with these organs so underdeveloped that they don’t function well.
It’s recommended that women wait at least 18 months before becoming pregnant with another child, and if a baby is conceived within the six month period after a baby was born, their risk of being born prematurely skyrockets by 40%.
7 No Smoking
There are a plethora of reasons not to smoke, and in this day and age, it’s still outrageous that anyone chooses to partake in an activity that introduces thousands of toxic chemicals to the human body. Unfortunately, it still happens. For pregnant moms and anyone who has children, smoking is a definite no, and so is exposing a child to second-hand smoke.
Since there are so many issues with smoking, we’ll hit the high points of why it is so bad for babies to save time. First of all, those toxic chemicals we discussed earlier? Babies who live around people who smoke inhale those chemicals right along with the smoker. Plus, the smoke seeping into a child’s lungs affects their ability to breathe properly.
The awful doesn’t stop there. Cigarette and cigar smoke also affect a child’s brain and heart development in a way that leaves them at higher risk for SIDS. The effects of nicotine may cause a child’s brain to not trigger a child to breathe in a proper rhythm, leading to SIDS.
6 Co-Sleep Safely
Drop the word co-sleep in a room of parents and prepare for World War III to commence. Yes, it’s a hugely controversial topic, but it’s worth taking on to show that in very safe, careful cases, responsibly co-sleeping may help a child reduce the chances of SIDS.
One reason it can help is because baby is in close proximity to mom, plus it’s easier to breastfeed, two factors that are known to decrease SIDS. However, if co-sleeping is not done properly, it can be fatal for a child.
Parents should NEVER co-sleep if they have been drinking or engaging in drug use. Babies should still always be put on their backs to sleep, and preferably placed in an attached co-sleeper instead of the parents' bed. Attached co-sleepers connect to a parent’s bed but gives a child their own sleeping space alongside the family bed. Babies should always have a clean sleeping area with no toys, blankets, or pillows.
Co-sleeping is not for everyone, and room sharing is just fine. If parents choose this option, they should ensure that they are careful.
5 Buy The Right Crib Mattress
There are plenty of items a mom may choose to buy used so she can save money on baby gear. Most of the time this is a fine practice, but when it comes to crib mattresses, mom should be careful.
Buying a firm, safe mattress that has not been recalled for any reason is essential to a child’s safety. The material the mattress is made of should be researched to make sure there are no chemicals in it that can compromise a child’s lungs. Mom doesn’t need to ever buy a crib that has been used in the house of a smoker, and an old crib that doesn’t have current safety information readily available is a no-no
Buying the right crib is essential. It’s also important that mom and dad adorn the crib properly, and that basically means not adorning it much at all. No pillows, toys, or blankets should be allowed in a crib with a child. It’s now also advised that parents leave off bumper pads - the material that goes around the crib and covers the bars from the inside. Though popular even a few years ago, they are now considered safety risks.
4 Avoid Unsafe Sleep Aids
Many products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS can actually cause this fatal problem, so researchers advise against using any kind of positioner to help a child sleep. Wedges are a definite no, and special mattresses that are not of the recommended firm variety pose problems for infants, and it’s not worth the risk.
It's also important for parents to not use products not meant for sleeping as sleep aids. The popular Boppy pillow is an amazing aid for nursing moms, but it's absolutely not a pillow for babies to sleep on. In fact, the product carries a warning that babies are not to be left to sleep on it, and there have been infant deaths when parents have refused to listen to this information.
Swaddling has recently come under fire as a SIDS risk as well. However, the way the information was reported was a bit misleading. Swaddling can substantially increase death if a child is swaddled and then left on their side or stomach. The increase in SIDS deaths for swaddled babies placed on their backs was slight, but parents still have to decide if it’s worth the risk at all.
3 No Honey For Baby
Honey for infants under the age of one is a no-no for many reasons, but SIDS is one of them. Because honey can carry botulism spores, it’s not a good idea for a baby. Though botulism is rare, it is a risk factor for SIDS, so parents need to make sure nothing they serve their baby in the first 12 months contains honey.
Botulism spores have the ability to produce a toxin that’s been connected to respiratory distress, a major issue for babies. It can also cause issues with muscle tone and cause a baby’s cry to be weak, so much so that a parent might not hear their child cry out for help. Babies who have botulism will also develop poor eating habits. It’s important for parents to wait until their child’s gut is fully developed enough to handle honey before it’s introduced.
Though the risk of infant botulism is low, with less than a hundred cases a year being reported in the United States, it’s still a risk for SIDS, and this is an easy one to avoid.
2 Receive Good Prenatal Care
Receiving good prenatal care helps babies thrive outside of the womb, and moms who skip this part of caring for their child may end up giving birth to a child with higher risk factors for SIDS.
While it’s generally common knowledge that smoking, drinking, and drug use are not good ideas while mom is pregnant, it’s surprising how many women continue with these behaviors. Some truly don’t know better, and without a doctor to let them know, they will engage in activity that puts their child at higher risk for SIDS.
For women who do know better but aren’t sure how to change their habits, their OB can offer assistance. They can help women find ways to give up these habits and monitor the progress of their developing baby to find out early if there are any problems.
Plus, prenatal sonograms and check-ups can help doctors detect early problems in infants, like brain or lung issues. Since these problems can affect the chances of SIDS, mom and her doctor can work together to see what they can do to minimize the risks to the child.
1 Ventilate The Room
A great way to clear stale air out of a room is to have a baby sleep with a fan so the space stays well ventilated. Babies who slept with fans in their rooms were 70% less likely to suffer with SIDS, so this tip can have a major impact on a child’s safety.
For children who have problems waking up and adjusting their heads so they won’t re-breathe bad air, having a fan in the room does some of the work. Though having a fan is not a replacement for following basic guidelines, like no blankets in the crib and placing a child to sleep on her back, it’s still a precaution that is helping infants survive their rest.
It’s important for mom to place her child in a room with a fan every time the child sleeps. Though most people imagine children succumbing to SIDS at night, it can happen during daytime naps as well. The peak hours are 10pm to 10am, but parents shouldn’t risk it anytime a child is sleeping. Follow all precautions at all times.