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SIDS Safe Sleep Practices

January 11th, 2016  |  The Blog

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS is a scary and tragic possibility for parents to worry about every single night and day when they have an infant. SIDS refers to when a baby goes to sleep and does not wake up. This is a totally unexpected death of an otherwise healthy infant.

Tragically, about 2,300 babies die every year in the United States. This number needs to be reduced or, preferably, totally eliminated. There is no medical explanation for Sudden Infant Death but recent research suggests that unsafe sleep practices contribute to the problem.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Explained

SIDS is defined as, “the sudden death of an infant under one year of age that cannot be explained following a thorough case investigation,” according to David Patterson, PhD, instructor of pathology at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Some facts about SIDS:

  • 90% of deaths happen within the first 6 months of life
  • The peak is between 1 and 4 months
  • It is more commonly boys than girls who are affected
  • Most deaths happen during the fall, winter and early spring months
  • Most babies appear healthy before it happens
  • The cause of SIDS is unknown

Smoking effects on SIDS:

  • Moms who choose to smoke during pregnancy deliver babies who have three times higher risk of dying from SIDS than a mom who does not smoke
  • Passive smoking in the home doubles a baby’s risk of SIDS

SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion. It’s listed as the cause of death in cases where no other cause of death can be identified through a death scene investigation, an autopsy or a significant clinical history.

Theories About SIDS

The cause of SIDS is unknown but there are a few theories about why it happens. They include the following scenarios:

  • The inability of a baby to awake from sleep
  • A problem with the baby’s inability to recognize low oxygen levels
  • A build-up of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the blood

In simple terms, if a baby sleeps on their stomach, they rebreathe exhaled CO2. Usually, when CO2 levels rise, it activates nerve cells in the brainstem and this, in turn, stimulates the respiratory and arousal areas of the brain. Ideally, the baby awakens, turns his/her head and breathes faster to take in more oxygen. With a case of SIDS, a baby fails to rouse and impending doom and death occur.

Safe Sleep Practices

Here are some safe sleep practices that should be followed every time a baby is napping or in their crib for a night’s sleep. These practices are thought to help babies avoid succumbing to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

  1. Babies should sleep on their back only
  2. No blankets or stuffed animals in the crib
  3. Do not overdress or over-bundle a baby in blankets
  4. Do not use bumper pads in the crib
  5. Do not let a baby get overheated while sleeping; dress lightly
  6. Keep the baby’s environment smoke-free including during pregnancy
  7. Monitoring a baby during the night is easier if his/her crib is in the parent’s room for the first 6 months
  8. No bed-sharing with parents

Other safety guidelines include:

  1. Babies should have regular well-visits to the MD, be up-to-date on immunizations (unless there is a religious exemption)
  2. If a baby is ill, he/she should be evaluated, as needed, by the MD
  3. Breastfed babies have a reduced risk of SIDS, for unknown reasons

Now, let’s look at the sleeping environment and how to keep it safe. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics or AAP, the following guidelines should be followed:

  1. The crib should be standard safety-approved with a firm mattress and a tight-fitting sheet.
  2. Cradles and bassinets are an acceptable sleeping environment if they meet the standard safety guidelines

One caveat to all of the back sleeping position is that babies should spend some “awake time” on their tummy. This is important to enhance motor development of the shoulders and also works to prevent flat spots from developing on the back of the baby’s head.

SIDS is a real and concerning health issue in the U.S. Teaching parents about the basic safety guidelines to prevent SIDS is critical to reducing the number of deaths.



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