Baby sleeping on their back to reduce risk of SIDS

What Is SIDS, and How Can I Reduce the Risk?

You might have heard of SIDS, a topic of concern for parents of young children. SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and it refers to the unexpected and unexplained death of an otherwise healthy baby who is less than a year old. It’s sometimes called crib death, because many SIDS babies die when they're sleeping. The chance of SIDS occurring is very low, affecting less than 0.04 percent of infants under a year old in the United States. The cause or causes of SIDS are not known; however, there are steps you can take to create a safe sleep environment for your baby and to help prevent SIDS. Read on to find out more about what SIDS is, what some of the risk factors may be, and what you can do to help prevent it.

What Is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

SIDS Prevention Tips

SIDS Risk Factors and Causes

What Is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

The definition of SIDS is more a matter of what it isn’t: it is a death that is unexplained and unexpected, and that usually occurs while the baby is sleeping.

If you're wondering just how common SIDS is, statistics show SIDS is very rare in the United States. Based on data from 2015, the rate of SIDS is 39.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. This may still sound alarming, but it means only 0.0394 percent of babies under 1 year old are victims of SIDS.

A natural question parents have is when can I stop worrying about SIDS? Most SIDS deaths occur in the first several months of a baby’s life, and in fact, infants are most vulnerable between the second and fourth months. The SIDS risk significantly decreases after your baby turns 1.

Safe Sleep and SIDS Prevention Tips

It's important to know how to help prevent SIDS. Take these steps to help keep your baby safe and lower the risk of SIDS:

  • Put your baby to sleep on his back. Do this every single time for the first year of his life, and tell anyone else who may care for him that this is a must, whether it’s for a nap or to sleep at night. A good way to remember is with the expression “Back to sleep.” Some babies turn onto their stomach or side on their after being placed on their backs; it's OK to leave them in that position, experts say, as long as they are able to roll over in both directions without help.
  • Keep the crib bare. Make sure the mattress in the crib is firm and fits the crib perfectly without leaving any gaps at the sides. Avoid using any padding, blankets, comforters, pillows, bumper pads, or quilts. Only a tight-fitting bottom sheets should be used — no loose bedding. Never place toys in the crib — not even soft teddy bears. These fluffy surfaces and objects can interfere with your baby’s breathing.
  • Move your baby to a firm surface. Sometimes your baby may fall asleep in the car seat, stroller, or sling. Move him to a firm sleep surface as soon as possible. Never put your baby to sleep on a water bed or a cushion.
  • Don't let your baby become overheated. Avoid letting your baby get too hot, as this increases the SIDS risk. Make sure his head isn't covered when you put him to bed. Ensure the air temperature is comfortable for you — make sure it’s not too hot. Dress your baby in no more than one extra layer than you would wear, and don't use blankets. Instead, try a wearable blanket or a sleeping sack with no hood, or footie pajamas. If your baby’s head is hot and sweaty, or if his chest feels hot, he's too warm.
  • Let your baby sleep in your room. While this depends on your personal preferences, experts recommend your baby sleep in your room with you, but alone in a crib. If possible, try this for up to a year, and consider keeping the crib or bassinet at about an arm's length away from your bed.
  • Don’t sleep with your baby. Sleeping in the same bed as your baby isn’t recommended, and here’s why. It increases the SIDS risk because you can accidentally roll onto your child as you sleep, and the baby is at risk of becoming entangled in the bedding.
  • Breastfeed your baby. If you can, breastfeed for at least the first six months. Research suggests this can significantly reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Skin to skin contact. Skin to skin contact has many benefits. You can practice it while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, or any other time throughout the day. Dad can do it, too.
  • Don't rely on a SIDS baby monitor. Experts discourage the use of monitors and other devices that are claimed to reduce SIDS, because they have been found to be ineffective.
  • Offer a pacifier. Sucking on a pacifier at naptime and bedtime might reduce the risk of SIDS. But don’t use pacifiers with a strap or string, or ones that attach to clothing. If you're breastfeeding, wait until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old and you've settled into a nursing routine before offering a pacifier. If the pacifier falls out of your baby's mouth while he is sleeping, don't put it back in.
  • Make sure your baby gets all necessary immunizations. Some research indicates immunizations can help prevent SIDS.
  • No smoking around your baby. Don’t smoke near your baby, and keep your car and home smoke-free, too. Keep your baby away from places where people smoke.
  • Make sure baby beds and gear are safe. The crib, bassinet, stroller, and play yard should all meet current safety standards. Do not use the item if it’s broken, and if you’re borrowing or using a hand-me-down, make sure it meets current regulations.
  • Don’t fall asleep while feeding your baby. It is better to feed your baby on your bed with all pillows and bedding removed than on a sofa or cushioned chair. If you fall asleep while breastfeeding, move your baby back to his crib as soon as you wake up.
  • Tummy time. Give your baby plenty of tummy time when he's awake, as it helps strengthen his neck and back muscles. Remember to supervise tummy time, making sure that your baby remains awake.

This is a lot to take in, but this slogan might help. Just remember the ABC's of Safe Sleep: Your baby should always sleep

  • ALONE;
  • on her BACK;
  • in a CRIB.
Safe sleep chart, showing how to decrease the risk of SIDS

SIDS Risk Factors and Causes

It’s not known exactly what causes SIDS, but there are some environmental factors that make a baby more vulnerable, as well as maternal, physical, and general factors that may increase the risk.

Sleep Environmental Factors

Sleep circumstances that increase SIDS risk include:

  • Stomach or side sleeping position. Babies who are placed on their stomach or side may have more difficulty breathing than those placed on their backs.
  • Sleeping on a soft surface. Sleeping on a cushy comforter, a soft mattress, or a waterbed can block a baby’s airways.
  • Sharing a bed. Sleeping in the same bed as the parents, siblings, or pets increases the risk of SIDS, because of the potential for blocking the baby’s airways.
  • Overheating. Being too warm while sleeping can increase the risk of SIDS.

Maternal Risk Factors

Even before birth, moms can also unwittingly increase their baby's SIDS risk. Maternal risk factors include if mom:

  • is younger than 20
  • smokes cigarettes
  • consumes drugs or alcohol
  • has had inadequate prenatal care. That’s why it’s important to schedule and go to all your prenatal visits.

Physical Factors

  • Brain defects. In some babies, the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep hasn't matured enough to work properly, making them more vulnerable to SIDS.
  • Low birth weight. Premature babies, or those who are twins or other multiples, may not have developed full control over their breathing and heart rate yet, potentially making them more vulnerable.
  • Respiratory infection. Having recently had a cold may contribute to breathing problems for babies, which can increase the risk.

General Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is unknown, these factors contribute to the overall risk:

  • Sex. Boys are slightly more likely to be affected by SIDS.
  • Age. Infants are most vulnerable between the second and fourth months of life, although until the age of 12 months, babies are still considered as being at risk.
  • Race. Non-white babies are more at risk.
  • Family history. There’s a higher risk among babies who've had siblings or cousins die of SIDS.
  • Tobacco smoke. Babies who live with smokers are at an increased risk.
  • Premature birth and low birth weight. Being born early and/or having a low birth weight can increase the risk.

SIDS is a risk that almost all parents worry about. Keep in mind that SIDS is very rare, and if you take these precautions consistently throughout your baby’s first year of life, you can help reduce the risk even further.

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