Every parent has a list of irrational fears — things that are very unlikely to happen but you worry about them anyway. High on my list, a close second to kidnapping, is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), in which a seemingly healthy baby inexplicably dies in his sleep. It’s the leading cause of death for infants from one month to one year of age, and there are about 3,500 cases of SIDS-related deaths a year in the United States, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It’s prevelant enough, in fact, that the American Academy of Pediatrics has just released new guidelines to avoid SIDS; according to their report, babies should sleep in the same room as their parents (but in a different bed) for at least the first six months of life (optimally a year).
Although SIDS is one of the many things that we don’t have absolute control over as parents, there are certain measures we can take to help prevent it. That’s why I do everything I can to make sure that my boys have a safe sleeping environment; I advise the parents of the babies I take care of as a pediatrician to do the same. Read on to learn how you can reduce your child’s risk of SIDS, what causes it, and more.
When are babies most at risk for SIDS?
The highest incidence of SIDS occurs in children who are 2- to 4-months-old; more than 90 percent of SIDS deaths overall occur before a baby is 6-months-old.
What causes SIDS?
The cause of SIDS is unknown. The most likely theory is that certain children have an underlying vulnerability (whether it’s a genetic problem or a brain abnormality) that, in conjunction with an environmental factor, contributes to their death. Currently, there is no test to determine which children are most at risk for SIDS. However, there are steps that parents can take to help avoid SIDS-related deaths.
How can I reduce my child’s risk of SIDS?
There is no fool-proof strategy to prevent SIDS, but there are several things that you can do to help reduce your child’s risk of it:
1. Seek regular prenatal care. Studies have shown that this simple action really helps.
2. Do not smoke. This goes for when you’re pregnant and after the baby is born. And, it applies to both mom and dad.
3. Place your baby on her back to sleep. Side sleeping is not recommended, nor are devices that position a sleeping baby. In fact, the Back to Sleep Campaign has helped to reduce the prevalence of SIDS-related deaths significantly.
4. Don’t let your baby sleep in a car seat outside of the car. Young infants with poor head control will not breathe as well in a seated position and therefore parents should not use a car seat in place of a bassinet or crib.
5. Make sure there are no hazards in your baby’s crib. That means no pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, or bumpers.
6. Choose the right mattress for your crib. You want a breathable yet firm mattress, such as Newton Rest, ideally in your room for the first six months of life.
7. Don’t over-bundle your baby. She’ll get too warm. Also, keep the room at a temperature of 68 to 72 degrees.
8. Breastfeed, if possible. Breast milk contains antibodies and nutrients to keep babies healthy, and studies have shown that it minimizes the risk of SIDS, too.
Are there any special baby monitors that can help prevent SIDS?
Home monitors have not been proven to reduce the incidence of SIDS and therefore are not universally recommended. However, infants who have had near death episodes, who have a sibling who died of SIDS, or who were born very prematurely should be monitored overnight. If your child fits into one of these categories, consult your pediatrician.
Are there resources for parents coping with a SIDS loss?
There is most likely a biological component to SIDS, which means that parents can take all the possible precautions and still have a child who dies of it. However, parents who are coping with a SIDS loss may struggle with anxiety, feelings of loss of control, and other difficult emotions; they should reach out to their pediatrician for resources for coping, such as therapy and support groups. New parents who are facing extreme levels of anxiety about any parenting issues (including a fear of SIDS), should also reach out to their pediatrician for support and guidance.
More Advice from Dr. Blanchard:
- Most Common Questions About Newborns — Answered
- How to Tell Whether Your Baby Will Be Right- Or Left-Handed
- Everything You Need to Know About Ear Infections