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How to Reduce the Risk of SIDS

Three month baby girl wrapped in a modern winged baby swaddle laying on a bed. Swaddling is a practice of wrapping infants in cloths in order to prevent limb movement. Medical and psychological effects of swaddling are controversial; blog: reduce risk of SIDS

Any parent can probably tell you that there is a seemingly never-ending list of things to worry about when it comes to children. One thing that scares many parents-to-be or parents of young babies is SIDS. SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is the death of an apparently healthy baby under one year old. 

The exact cause is unknown and, as the name says, it occurs suddenly, often during sleep. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as “crib death.” About 3,500 babies in the U.S. die of sleep-related causes or SIDS each year. 

October is SIDS Awareness Month, a time when there is a push for parents, family members, and other caregivers to become educated about SIDS and how it can be prevented. Through efforts like this, SIDS deaths in the U.S. have declined about 50% over the last 20 years. To continue in that vein of education and prevention, we have created an overview of the topic, including information on ways to reduce the risk of SIDS.

SIDS Causes and Risk Factors

SIDS is defined as an unexplained death of an otherwise healthy baby, meaning the exact cause is unknown. There is some evidence that it is related to a defect in the portion of an infant’s brain that regulates breathing and arousal (waking) from sleep. 

Factors that may lead to an increased risk of SIDS include:

  • Brain defects
  • Respiratory infection
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Sleeping on the sides or stomach
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Sharing a bed
  • Overheating
  • Sleeping on a soft surface

Babies are most vulnerable to SIDS between the ages of 2 and 4 months. It is not known why, but boys are slightly more likely to die of SIDS than girls. Also unexplained is the fact that non-white babies have higher rates of SIDS. Additionally, if the baby has siblings or cousins that have died of SIDS, they are also at a higher risk.

Reduce the Risk of SIDS during Pregnancy

To decrease your baby’s risk of SIDS, you can start taking steps while you are pregnant.

  1. Do not smoke, do drugs, or drink alcohol when pregnant. Check with your doctor about the safety of any prescriptions you are currently taking.
  2. Stay away from smokers and places where there is frequent smoking.
  3. Get appropriate prenatal care. Take good care of yourself with proper nutrition, exercise, and rest. See your doctor at the recommended intervals and if you have concerns about something.
  4. Avoid pregnancy during teen years. If you have already had a child as a teen, wait until adulthood before having another. Second born children to teen mothers are at an even greater risk.

Reduce the Risk of SIDS After the Baby is Born

After the baby is born, there are many things that can lower their risk of dying of SIDS. Most of these are related to creating a safe sleeping environment and ensuring the baby’s breathing is not obstructed.

  1. Place the baby on down on his or her back to sleep both at night or for naps. If your baby falls asleep somewhere outside of the crib such as in a car seat, swing, or sling, then move them to a firm surface as soon as possible. If your baby rolls onto their side or stomach after you put them down,n you can leave them if they can already roll from back to tummy and tummy to back on their own.
  2. Use a bare crib with a firm mattress. A tightly fitted sheet or mattress cover is the only bedding you should allow. Do not use top sheets, blankets, or bumpers. If you are worried about baby staying warm, put them to bed in warmer clothes. But make sure they are not so warm that the baby might overheat. There are a lot of options for safe sleepwear on the market, including “sleep sacks.”
  3. Do not allow the baby to nap on softer surfaces like a waterbed, couch, pillow, or blanket.
  4. Keep the crib or bassinet in the parents’ room for the first 6 months, or until the baby can easily roll from both sides.
  5. While room-sharing is recommended, bed-sharing is not. Don’t co-sleep with babies less than a year old. This includes other children or pets sleeping in the same bed or crib with the baby. If you’re breastfeeding in bed, always place the baby back in their own crib or bassinet before either of you go to sleep. For more information about the dangers of co-sleep, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics guide for reducing the risk of SIDS and suffocation.
  6. Avoid overheating. Make sure their clothing is appropriate to keep them at a comfortable temperature. Also, do not put them down to sleep in spaces that are too hot or stuffy and don’t put the baby to sleep with his or her head covered.
  7. Do not rely on commercial devices that say they reduce SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that some of these devices are simply ineffective, and others can create safety issues. Encourage your baby to use a pacifier, but don’t attach the pacifier to the baby or the crib. For breastfed babies, pacifiers should not be introduced until they are 3 or 4 weeks old to avoid nipple confusion.
  8. Have daily interactive tummy time. Place your baby on his or her tummy during supervised periods. This will help with their ability to learn to push up and rollover. Do this on a firm surface as well, and do not use an adult bed or couch. Do not leave the baby unattended.
  9. Breastfeed your baby. Research has found that babies who are breastfed for at least 6 months have a decreased risk of SIDS. This is not possible for all mothers and babies, so do it as long as you can.
  10. Keep the baby away from smoking. Do not let the baby spend time around smokers or in places where there are people smoking. If you or someone in your home smokes, quitting is definitely recommended. At the very least, keep your home and any vehicles the baby will spend time in smoke-free.
  11. Go to all scheduled check-ups and well visits. Get the necessary immunizations and relay any concerns about your baby’s health or behavior to the pediatrician.
  12. Stay up to date on vaccines. Keeping to the recommended vaccination schedule does NOT increase the risk of SIDS as some claim. In fact, there is evidence that immunizations may protect against SIDS.
  13. Share all of these rules and tips with any caregiver. Do not assume they know them even if they have taken care of children before. It is always better to be safe and repeat safety precautions.

For More Information

At Kernodle Pediatrics we will provide the highest quality care for your child from birth until they turn 18. If you are the parent of a newborn or infant, or if you are expecting a baby, we can help answer any questions you have about their health. This includes providing counseling on ways to reduce the risk of SIDS. To make an appointment to talk to a pediatrician, you can contact our Elon office at 336-538-2416 and our Mebane office at 919-563-2500. You can also request an appointment online.

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