Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS, is the sudden and unexpected death of a baby less than one year old, which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation and autopsy. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is sometimes referred to as “crib death,” because many babies who die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are found in their cribs. However, cribs have not been shown to cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
In the 1990’s, national and international campaigns advising parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs have led to a decline of 50% in the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Still, in the United States, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome remains the leading cause of death in babies who are over one month of age.
Baby boys are at higher risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than girls.
The incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is rare in the newborn period, but it rises soon after the first month. Deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are most common from two to four months of age. Ninety per cent of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome deaths occur by age six months.
Although Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is uncommon in newborn babies, it is a major concern in slightly older babies, and therefore it is important to take the necessary precautions right from birth.
Recommendations for Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
The exact cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome remains unknown, but a number of risk factors have been identified, such as sleeping on the tummy, second hand smoke, overheating, premature birth, low birth weight, and young age of the mother. As a result, a number of recommendations have been suggested as a way of preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
1. Back to Sleep
- It is best for babies to sleep on their backs for the first six months of life.
- Numerous studies have shown that putting a baby to sleep on his tummy leads to a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. As a result, in 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that babies should be put to sleep on their backs.
- The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome when a baby is put to sleep on his side is less than that of tummy sleeping but higher than that of sleeping on his back. The problem with putting a baby to sleep on his side is that he can easily roll onto his tummy.
- Some parents worry that putting their baby to sleep on his back will increase the chance of choking or spit-up. Rest assured that there is no increase in choking in babies who sleep on their backs.
- Studies have shown that babies who normally sleep on their backs, but who are put to sleep on their tummy occasionally, are at an even higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than babies who normally sleep on their tummies. This means that even if you consistently put your baby to sleep on his back, but your babysitter decides to put him to sleep on his tummy, he is at higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Make sure that all caregivers and babysitters are aware that they must put your baby to sleep on his back. This applies not just to night-time sleeping but also to naptime.
2. Avoid Soft Mattresses, Bedding and Pillows
- Soft mattresses, couches, and waterbeds are unsafe places for your baby to sleep. Soft bedding and pillows can block your baby’s nose and mouth, and therefore can interfere with his breathing and cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Placing your baby on his tummy, face down, on soft bedding is especially hazardous. Avoid placing soft materials such as quilts, comforters, or sheepskins under your baby when he sleeps. Keep pillows, stuffed toys, and other soft objects out of his sleeping environment. Avoid bumper pads and loose bedding.
- Use a firm crib mattress, covered by a tightly fitted sheet. If you use a blanket, tuck it around the crib mattress so it does not cover your baby’s face.
3. Do Not Smoke
- Smoking during pregnancy puts a baby at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Exposing a baby to second-hand smoke after he is born also increases the risk. Keep your baby in a smoke-free environment.
4. Avoid Overheating
- Overheating can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Avoid overheating your baby. Keep him lightly clothed for sleep. Make sure that his room is at a comfortable temperature for a lightly clothed adult. Your baby should not feel hot to the touch.
5. Keep the Baby in Your Room
- Studies show that when a parent or other committed adult caregiver sleeps in the same room as a baby, but not in the same bed, the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome drops by 50%. Most incidents of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome occur in babies who sleep by themselves in a separate room, without an adult present. Putting a baby to sleep in a room with his sibling does not reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
6. Premature and Low Birth Weight Babies
- Despite the “Back to Sleep” campaign, many health care providers in hospital nurseries continue to put premature and low birth weight infants to sleep on their tummy or side. This is because these babies are more easily managed in such positions, and the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is relatively low in the newborn period. In addition, these babies are usually on a monitor, allowing for quick detection of problems. However, parents are likely to follow their practitioner’s lead and continue placing their baby on his tummy or side when he comes home. Numerous pediatric societies recommend that all babies, including premature and low birth weight babies in hospital or at home, be put to sleep on their backs as soon as possible.
- If your newborn baby is in a special care nursery or neonatal intensive care unit and you are concerned that he is being put to sleep on his tummy or side, make sure to discuss this with his health care providers.
7. Tummy Time
- Babies who are placed to sleep on their backs can sometimes develop a flattening of the back of the head. This is less likely to happen if your baby spends at least five minutes on his tummy every day when he is awake, and if you carry him in an upright position when he is not sleeping. Also, when you put him to sleep, try varying his head position each time.
Coping with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome die without warning or medical explanation. As a result, their parents face both the unbearable sadness of losing a baby and tremendous guilt. They blame not only themselves, but also other people they may be close to. If you have a baby who has died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, try not to blame yourself or others. Understand that, although there may be ways to reduce the risks, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome can still happen, and there is no known cause.
The grief of losing a baby can be overwhelming. You may experience many emotions, ranging from numbness or denial to anger or depression. You and your partner may grieve in different ways, which may cause tension in your relationship.
Source: About Kids Health