How To Reduce Your Baby’s Risk of SIDS

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I wrote many health-related articles for the Parenting channel of iVillage, then owned by NBC Universal, on very short deadlines. This one appeared as an online slideshow. 

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SIDS — Sudden Infant Death Syndrome — is a new mom’s nightmare. SIDS babies die during their sleep for no apparent reason; a concrete cause of death is never found. Though rare, it’s the most common way that babies between 1 month and 12 months old die. The latest research shows that perhaps an abnormality in the brainstem prevents certain infants from responding to breathing challenges (like when there are obstructions). Until doctors know more, there are some proven ways to lower your baby’s risk of SIDS:

Put Her On Her Back To Sleep

The most effective way to decrease the risk of SIDS is to lay baby on her back in the crib, according to The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Some researchers surmise that this is because stomach sleeping puts pressure on a baby’s jaw, narrowing the airway and potentially hampering breathing. Back sleeping is so effective that 50 percent less babies have died of SIDS since the Back to Sleep Public Education Campaign by the NICHD went into effect in 1994.

Run a Fan in The Nursery

Using a fan while babies were asleep contributed to a 72 percent reduction in SIDS risk in one 2008 study. It was especially effective in warm rooms, but either way, it’s worth investing in a fan.

Don’t Smoke

A baby’s risk for SIDS triples if Mom smokes both during pregnancy and after birth. And it doubles if baby is regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, so keep anyone lighting up far away from her.

Use a Firm Mattress

There’s a reason crib mattresses tend to be firm — they’re made to be the safest place for baby to sleep. So avoid letting her sleep on waterbed, beanbag, couch or big cushy comforter — no matter how comfy they may seem. They’re all suffocation hazards.

Skip Crib Bumpers, Stuffed Animals and Pillowssleeping-baby-crib-636

All that cute stuff looks great in catalogs, but remember that soft things can suffocate baby. A 2007 study found that crib bumpers caused suffocation or strangulation in some baby deaths. If you must use bumpers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using ones that are thin, firm, well secured, and not pillow-like. When in doubt, skip the bumpers altogether, as most parents in Europe and Canada do.

Turn The Thermostat Down

It’s normal to want to keep baby warm, but don’t let her overheat. Her comfort level is similar to yours, so test the room for yourself. If you don’t need extra layers she probably won’t either.

Don’t use a thick blankets or coverlets in the crib. Instead stick to thin receiving blankets and make precautions to keep them away from her face — either swaddling her like they do in the hospital or putting them over her from the chest down and tucking them around the mattress (which the AAP recommends). Or, opt for a sleep sack, which allows baby to move around without the risk of covering her mouth and nose.

Keep Baby Nearby

Putting baby’s crib or bassinet in your room for at least the first few months, isn’t just convenient, it’s safe. Infants who sleep in the same room as their mothers — as long as it’s in a safe, separate sleeping area and not in your bed — have a lower risk of SIDS.

Avoid Unsafe Co-Sleeping

It may seem a natural way to sleep, but beware: The AAP says that baby shouldn’t sleep in your bed under any circumstances. A baby can become trapped and suffocate between the headboard slats or between the mattress and the bed frame or wall. Unless you’ve taken special safety precautions, be sure baby’s sleeping in her own crib.

Consider Breastfeeding

Some experts believe that breastfed babies are at a lower risk for SIDS. Data analyzed by scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences suggests that breastfeeding could prevent up to 720 infant deaths in the U.S. each year by preventing certain serious ilnesses, including respiratory disease.

Offer a Pacifier

The AAP suggests using a pacifier (after baby’s first month, if you’re breastfeeding), since sucking on one could discourage baby from turning over onto her stomach during sleep. Plus, all that sucking helps keep her tongue forward and her airway open. But don’t force a pacifier on her if she isn’t into it.

Avoid Sleep Positioners and Bolsters

Just because a product says it’s made to prevent SIDS, don’t assume that it’s OK to use. For example, there are sleep positioners that claim to prevent baby from rolling onto her stomach with two side bolsters, but in September 2010, the FDA and Consumer Product Safety Commission debunked those claims, urging parents not to use them after dozens of infants rolled into unsafe positions while on them. While some parents turn to sleep positioners to help with reflux and colic and prevent flat head syndrome, the CSPC says there’s no scientifically proven benefit to using them. So it’s best to avoid them altogether.

Share These Tips

Baby’s sitter, grandparents and anyone else who cares for her should know how to prevent SIDS. About one in five crib deaths have occurred when someone else was taking care of baby and may not have known how to prevent SIDS. Another reason: babies who are used to sleeping on their backs and are put on their stomachs are 18 times more likely to die from SIDS. So please spread the news.

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