If you follow our blog, you may remember that last month was Newborn Screening Awareness Month. We talked a lot about the importance of newborn screening, and about how parents can stay informed.
The month of October is significant for families, too — it’s SIDS Awareness month. Here at the Baby Sleep Site®, we’re committed to joining the effort to raise awareness about what SIDS is and how parents can lower SIDS risk. As we’ve said in past articles, safe sleep habits are just as important as healthy sleep habits.
And, the efforts to educate families about safe sleep habits are working. Since 1994, when the Back to Sleep campaign was launched, rates of SIDS around the globe have dropped significantly.
What Is SIDS?
SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) refers to the sudden, unexpected death of a baby under 1 year of age. The death almost always follows a period of sleep. If experts can find no cause of death after a formal investigation, then the death is considered SIDS.
Of course, not every sudden and unexpected infant death is due to SIDS. Some are due to underlying medical conditions (like metabolic disorders, or heart defects.) Others are due to parental neglect. Still others are caused by accidental suffocation.
What Causes SIDS?
There’s no established cause of SIDS. It’s called a “diagnosis of exclusion”, meaning that it’s the diagnosis given after everything else has been ruled out.
Although medical experts haven’t found a cause, they have identified many risk factors that contribute to SIDS. Those include:
- Physical Factors — Factors like brain abnormalities, low birth weight, and respiratory issues can increase the risk of SIDS.
- Sleeping Environment Factors — Babies who sleep on their tummies or sides, babies who sleep on overly soft bedding or with loose blankets, and babies who sleep with their parents are more likely to die of SIDS.
- Other Factors — Boys are more likely to die of SIDS than girls, and babies are most vulnerable in their second and third month of life. Babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke (both before and after birth) have a higher risk of SIDS. Babies who have a family history of SIDS are also at greater risk.
Can SIDS Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent SIDS entirely. Sometimes, parents do everything right, and they still lose a little one to SIDS.
However, there are preventative steps parents can take, and research has shown again and again that when these steps are taken, SIDS rates are reduced.
- Expectant mothers can lower SIDS risks by getting quality prenatal care, and by not smoking during their pregnancies.
- Don’t expose your baby to cigarette smoke after birth. Studies have shown that babies who are exposed to tobacco smoke have higher risks of SIDS.
- ALWAYS place your baby on his back to sleep. Babies who sleep on their tummies, or on their sides, are at greater risk of SIDS.
- Make sure your baby’s sleep environment is safe. The mattress should be firm and fit tightly in the crib, and the only bedding should include a snug, fitted sheet. Avoid crib bumpers; these have recently been outlawed in several states. Furthermore, keep all blankets, stuffed animals, etc. out of the crib.
- Don’t sleep with your baby. Research has indicated that babies who sleep with adults, on adults beds or on couches or chairs, have a much higher risk of SIDS, and of accidental suffocation.
- Consider putting your baby’s crib in your bedroom. Sleeping with your baby isn’t the safest sleeping arrangement, but sleeping near your baby is. In fact, studies have shown that when a baby sleeps near his mom, his risk of SIDS is low.
- Prevent your baby from overheating. Dress your baby in light layers, and keep her room at a comfortable temperature. Babies who are too hot are at higher risk of SIDS.
- If you’re concerned that your baby’s not warm enough, use sleep sacks. These wearable blankets provide warmth, but they don’t carry the same risks as loose, heavy blankets.
- Run a fan in your baby’s room. Studies have indicated that fans provide better air circulation and reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Prevent respiratory infections as best you can. In your baby’s early months of life, avoid crowded places. Ask that people wash their hands before touching or holding your baby. Research has shown that SIDS sometimes occurs after respiratory infections, like colds.
- Discuss all of these steps with your baby’s care providers. Make sure anyone who looks after your baby knows about safe sleep practices and will carefully follow these guidelines.
Other SIDS Resources
Looking for more information on what SIDS is, and on how to lower the risk? Use these helpful resources:
http://www.firstcandle.org/grieving-families/grief-resources/local-support/ (a state-by-state guide to finding local support)