How can I reduce the risk of SIDS?
October is SIDS Awareness Month and Oct. 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
The leading causes of death for babies 1–12 months old are SIDS and suffocation/asphyxia, usually during sleep.
SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is the unexpected death of a healthy child before their first birthday, which remains unexplained even after a comprehensive investigation.
SIDS is a scary topic for parents, so let’s start with some good news: the vast majority of babies will survive and go on to become healthy, happy children. Wonderful news indeed!
But sadly, more than 3,500 healthy babies die within the first year of life each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 1,500 of these are ultimately diagnosed as SIDS.
In other cases the cause may be more obvious, such as suffocation by loose/soft bedding, asphyxia from re-breathing trapped air or being smothered by a co-sleeping adult, sibling or pet.
Although we don’t know what “causes” SIDS, studies have shown that SIDS and suffocation share the same risk factors. When we take steps to eliminate suffocation risks from a baby’s sleep area, we get the benefit of reducing the risks of SIDS as well.
Steps to help reduce the risk of SIDS
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has developed the following guidance for creating a safe sleep environment by pulling together the best data and research we have on SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths:
- Place baby on his or her back for every sleep time — both naps and nighttime
- Room-sharing is protective against SIDS, but bed-sharing significantly increases risk — in fact, the AAP recently updated their safe sleep guidelines to recommend that babies sleep in their parents' room (in their own sleeping space) for the first 6 to 12 months
- Provide a separate sleep space (such as a safe crib, bassinet or playpen) with a firm, flat mattress and a well-fitted sheet
- Remove soft items from the crib — no blankets, bumpers, pillows or soft toys (wearable blankets/sleep sacks are a safe alternative to loose blankets)
- Keep baby’s sleep area a comfortable temperature for a lightly clothed adult, and have baby wear just one more layer than you would need (overheating is a known risk factor for SIDS)
- Keep baby’s environment smoke-free
Unfortunately, until we have a better understanding of SIDS we cannot prevent it 100 percent of the time. But by following the AAP guidelines for creating a safe sleep environment, we can significantly reduce your baby’s risk.
Commonly asked questions about infant sleep
I’m worried that if I put baby to sleep on her back, she might choke if she spits up. What should I do?
As it turns out, babies are actually less likely to choke when lying on their back, because in that position the trachea (airway to the lungs) is higher up than the esophagus (which goes to the stomach). If your baby spits up or vomits in the night, gravity may cause her to swallow it back down, but with that open airway, she’ll be breathing just fine.
What about “sleeper” or “soother” devices that elevate the baby’s head, or products marketing themselves as “womb-like” — are these safe for sleep?
Buyer beware. Ask yourself: Does this product meet the AAP’s definition of a safe sleep environment? Is it flat? Is it firm? If the answer is no, you have your answer to this question.
My baby starts out the night in his crib, but sometimes I bring him into bed with me for night feedings because I am so tired. Is that okay?
Oh boy do we understand — caring for babies is exhausting. But that is one of many reasons to avoid bringing baby into your bed. Too often tired parents fall asleep during or after night feedings, putting baby at risk of suffocation or falling, and increasing the risk of SIDS. It is important to put him back in his crib before you drift off to sleep. Share the load at night with your partner if you can, so both of you can get some rest. Baby is safer that way and you’ll sleep better not worrying you might roll over on him in the night.
Provide your baby with the best protection by following the ABC’s of safe infant sleep: Babies sleep safest when Alone, on their Back, in a safe Crib.
For more information on safe infant sleep practices, visit the Mary Bridge Center for Childhood Safety, or call 253-403-1234.
This story was originally published in October 2015 and updated in October 2016.
About The Author
Erin Summa is a Health Promotion Coordinator with the Mary Bridge Center for Childhood Safety.
More stories by this author