What is SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? And what can you do to reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS?
What Is SIDS?
SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, is a new parent’s worst fear. An apparently healthy infant, usually less than one year old and with no obvious previous or present illness, goes to sleep and never wakes up. Examination of the infant’s medical history, home, and even an autopsy do not reveal the cause of death in true SIDS cases.
While the rate of SIDS has fallen by over 50 percent since 1983, according to the American SIDS Institute there are still about 2,500 deaths per year in the United States and thousands more throughout the world.
Who Is at Highest Risk?
Infants at increased risk for SIDS are those younger than six months, those born prematurely, males, and twins or triplets. Although parents can’t control these factors, research suggests there are risk factors for SIDS that parents can control.
Back to Sleep
Evidence increasingly supports placing infants on their backs (supine position) during sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS. Campaigns encouraging parents to put their infants to sleep on their backs have dramatically reduced these unexplained deaths. Sleeping on the side also reduces the SIDS risk, though not as much as supine positioning.
This recommendation is for healthy infants only. Those with upper airway anomalies, gastro esophageal reflux, or other problems may or may not benefit from sleeping on their backs. Parents should discuss these special situations with their child’s doctor.
Supine sleeping may cause flat spots on the back of the head. This is a cosmetic concern and does not require treatment. Changes in head shape can usually be prevented or treated by alternating the head position during sleep. Changing the baby’s orientation to outside activity such as the door to the room often accomplishes this. Babies should also spend time on their stomachs when they are awake.
Reducing the Risk of SIDS
- Put your baby to sleep lying on her back rather than stomach or side. This may reduce the risk of SIDS by 25 to 50 percent.
- Use a safety-approved crib with a snugly fitting, firm mattress. Additionally use only firm bedding—such as a well-fitted sheet—underneath your infant. Soft bedding, pillows, blankets, quilts, comforters, wedges, sheepskins, and stuffed animals may cause a dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide around a child’s face, increasing the risk of SIDS.
- Keep your baby’s environment smoke-free.
- Don’t allow your infant to get overheated with excessive bedding, clothing, or a room heater.
- Breastfeed your infant.
- Consider using a pacifier. A December 2005 report in the British Medical Journal states that infants who used a pacifier while sleeping had a 90 percent reduced rate of SIDS when compared to infants who slept without pacifiers.
- Educate grandparents and other caregivers about SIDS and ways to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Where Baby Sleeps
Having your baby sleep in the bed with you facilitates breastfeeding and is advocated by those who encourage attachment parenting. Some researchers believe bed sharing reduces the risk of SIDS because parents are more sensitive to their baby’s breathing patterns.
Other experts worry that an infant sleeping with his or her parents may have an increased risk of SIDS due to the extra blankets, sheets, pillows, and people in the bed with the baby.
Whether bed sharing is linked to SIDS is not yet clear. If you are concerned about sharing a bed with your baby but want him close to you, you may try a sidecar arrangement as an alternative—placing your infant’s bassinet, crib, or co-sleeper next to your bed.
Although the cause of SIDS is not fully understood, there are steps that you can take to increase your child’s chance of survival. One of the most important things that you can do is to put your baby to sleep on his or her back rather than on the stomach or side.