Safe sleep for babies and other ways to reduce SIDS risk

October 29, 2015 | by Michael J. Fitzgerald, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

There are no words to describe the devastation of losing your baby suddenly and unexpectedly. As the leading cause of death for infants under age 1, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of new parents. But research has taught us ways to help reduce the risk of SIDS and save more babies' lives.

While the exact cause of SIDS is still unknown, we do know that it is not caused by suffocation, vaccines, immunizations or shots. It is not contagious and it is not the result of neglect or child abuse.

SIDS is most likely to occur between 1-4 months of age. It affects boys more often than girls, and most SIDS deaths occur in the winter. Babies born premature, as a twin or multiple, or with a sibling who had SIDS are at higher risk. Babies born to mothers who smoked or abused substances during pregnancy, teen moms, or those who received late prenatal care are also at higher risk.

Researchers believe that a combination of several conditions, including medical vulnerability, rather than a single risk factor, contributes to SIDS. While many conditions are out of our control, one we can control is sleep environment.

The best way to reduce the risk of SIDS is to always put your baby to sleep on his/her back. This American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation has since reduced the incidence of SIDS by almost one-half. Here are more ways to help reduce the risk of SIDS:

  • Only put your baby to sleep in a safety-approved crib — NEVER in bed with you.
  • Place your baby on a firm, tight-fitting crib mattress, covered by a fitted sheet.
  • Remove all pillows, comforters, bumpers and other loose bedding or soft objects from the crib.
  • Do NOT let your baby get too hot (don't overdress). The room temperature should be cool and comfortable.
  • Don’t smoke! Always keep your baby in a smoke-free environment.
  • Offer your baby a dry pacifier (that’s not attached to a string) for sleeping.
  • Try to breastfeed, which helps to reduce upper respiratory infections that may contribute to SIDS risk.
  • Get trained in infant CPR. Make sure all your caregivers are trained.
  • Make sure your baby has regular checkups, including all recommended immunizations, which some evidence suggests helps to reduce SIDS risk.
  • Avoid products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Remember: babies sleep safest on their backs. Always place your baby on his/her back for every sleep — for naps and at night. Do not co-sleep with your baby. Also, give your baby plenty of supervised tummy time when he/she is awake, as this helps strengthen his/her neck and shoulder muscles and prevent flat spots on the head.

Once your baby can roll over consistently on his/her own — from back to tummy and tummy to back — it’s okay to let your baby remain in the chosen sleep position. As always, follow your doctor’s advice. If your baby stops breathing, goes limp or turns blue, call 911.

If you have lost a child to SIDS, there are many resources to help you cope. The SHARE Program supports those who experienced the loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. For more information, call 630-527-3263.

What does a safe sleep environment look like?

Find resources and learn more about SIDS.

Michael J. Fitzgerald, M.D. is a board certified neonatologist and Medical Director of the Special Care Nursery at Elmhurst Hospital. 

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