Can you imagine anything scarier for a baby’s parents than Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?
Your baby appears to be perfectly healthy and happy and shows no signs of illness. You put her down to sleep just like any other day but when you go back to check on her you find her dead. I can’t imagine a more tragic experience for parents. Their lives are shaken to the core and they must somehow learn to deal with profound sadness and guilt over the loss of their precious angel.
By definition, SIDS is when an infant under one year of age dies for no apparent reason. The cause of death remains even after a thorough investigation and autopsy have completed. No underlying cause of death is uncovered and no foul play is suspected.
What’s really scary is that no one knows for sure what causes SIDS so it can happen to anyone without warning. In fact, there are about 2500 incidents of SIDS every year in the United States alone.
The good news is that although we still don’t know exactly what causes SIDS we have been able to identify several risk factors. By following recommendations published by the American Academy of Pediatrics we can reduce (though not eliminate) the risk of SIDS.
The AAP’s recommendations include:
1. Always put your baby to sleep on her back. A 2000 study conducted by the AAP indicated that belly-sleeping has up to 12.9 times the SIDS risk as back-sleep.
2. Put your baby to sleep on a firm surface. A firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet is ideal. Never place soft blankets or comforters under your sleeping baby.
3. Keep your baby sleeping area free of soft objects including pillows, comforters, and stuffed animals. Crib bumpers should not be fluffy or pillow-like. They should be firm, thin, and well-secured to the crib. Loose blankets should be eliminated as well as they could easily end up over your baby’s head.
4. Quit smoking. Smoking during pregnancy is a major SIDS risk factor. Second-hand smoke is also considered a threat so don’t think you are free to light up after a baby is born.
5. Let your baby sleep in the same room as you, but NOT in the same bed. Set up a cradle, bassinet, or cosleeper so your little one can sleep right next to you. But never let her sleep in bed with you or anyone else. You could roll over in your sleep and suffocate her without even realizing it.
6. Offer a pacifier at bedtime. Although the exact reason is yet unknown, there is strong evidence that pacifier use reduces the risk of SIDS. But that doesn’t mean you should force a pacifier on an infant who refuses it.
7. Be careful not to overheat your baby. Keep your bedroom temperature at a level that would be comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. Avoid over bundling your baby and make sure she doesn’t feel hot to the touch.
8. Do not waste time and money with products that promise to reduce the risk of SIDS. This includes cardiac and respiratory monitors and sleeps positioners that are designed to keep the baby on her back. None of these products have been proven to reduce the risk of SIDS at all.
As I mentioned earlier there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. But the AAP’s guidelines and initiatives to educate parents about the risk factors associated with SIDS has had a dramatic effect. The number of infant deaths attributed to SIDS has dropped by an encouraging 50% since 1983.
Follow the AAP’s recommendations and make sure that family members and caregivers follow them too.