SIDS: How to Reduce Your Baby’s Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Every parent has a list of fears. One of my fears, as the parent of three boys, is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). What is SIDS? SIDS is when a seemingly healthy baby inexplicably dies in his sleep. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is 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 released new guidelines in 2016 to lower SIDS risk; 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 SIDS risk, what causes it, and more.

What causes SIDS?

The cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome 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.

When is a baby’s SIDS risk greatest?

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 should parents know about SIDS prevention?

There is no fool-proof strategy to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, 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?

Home monitors have not been proven to reduce the incidence of SIDS and therefore are not universally recommended. However, infants who have an increased SIDS risk, including having a sibling who died of SIDS or being 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:

Photo: Getty


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