Avoiding SIDS


SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) was first defined in the late 1960s and was refined in 1991 as “the sudden death of an infant under one year of age which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history”. (Willinger et al, 1991). Recently there is much debate about how these apparently sleep related unexpected deaths should be classified.

SIDS is a bit of a misnomer to a lot of people, as many infant deaths are actually explained by suffocation and/or strangulation due to unsafe sleep habits.  Below is a list of safe sleep habits that should be used in every household to reduce the risk of SIDS in your baby.

·         Back to Sleep.  In 1994 the “Back to Sleep” Campaign was launched to educate parents and caregivers on the safest approaches to putting their babies to sleep.  After the campaign was launched the incidence of SIDS was reduced by 50%!  Doctors used to believe that newborns were safest to sleep on their stomachs in case they spit up during sleep.  However, this has now been proven untrue and infants were suffocating while sleeping on their stomachs, leading to the back to sleep campaign.  So, ALWAYS place your newborn infant on their back to sleep and NEVER on their stomach.

·         Firm Mattress.  Babies should sleep on a firm mattress, preferably made from organic materials, with just one fitted sheet.

·         No blankets, pillows, sheepskins, or crib bumpers should be used in the crib at any time, for the first 12 months of life.  Adding stuffed animals or any other materials can lead to suffocation and/or strangulation for a young infant.  Never use products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep related causes of death, as these products have not been tested for safeness or effectiveness.  Home heart and breathing monitors should also not be used unless prescribed by your pediatrician.

·         No Smoking.  Smoking should not be allowed in your infant’s room or anywhere in the home.  This can cause difficulty in breathing for the infant, leading to SIDS.

·         Make sure nothing is covering the baby’s head, and this includes making sure any crib mobile is high enough that it cannot be reached or pulled down by an older infant, as this can lead to strangulation.

·         Dress your baby in a sleeper, swaddle, or sleep sack and do not use any loose blankets or sheets in the crib.

·         Keep the baby in your room, or sleep in the same room, for the first 6 months so you are an arm’s length away in case any breathing difficulties occur.

·         Baby should NEVER sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else.  For parents who want to co-sleep, it is advised to purchase a co-sleeper that attaches to the side of your bed, so the infant has their own sleep space and the parent cannot roll over on top of them during the night.  These co-sleepers are also convenient for easy access to breastfeeding in the middle of the night.

·         Pacifier.  Giving your baby a pacifier recues the risk of SIDS, however make sure that it is not attached to any strings.  If breastfeeding, you may want to wait a few weeks to introduce a pacifier to avoid nipple confusion.  If the pacifier falls out in the middle of the night, there is no need to replace it.

·         Breastfeed.  If you can, breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS as well.

·         Tummy Time!  Supervised tummy time while the baby is awake is a great way to strengthen their arm, neck, and shoulder muscles as well as reduce the risk of the flat spot on the back of your baby’s head.

For more information on SIDS, it’s prevention, and statistics, visit https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sts/Pages/default.aspx