Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is defined 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.” In the United States, SIDS is responsible for more infant deaths in infancy than any other cause outside of the neonatal period (the first 28 days of life). This is a frightening statistic for parents. So what can you do to protect your children?
First, ALWAYS put your child on their back to sleep. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released their recommendation that all newborns and infants be placed down to sleep in a “nonprone” position (i.e., not on their tummy). In 1994, the “Back to Sleep” campaign began as a way to educate parents, caregivers and healthcare providers about ways to reduce the risk for SIDS. Since that time, the SIDS rate has fallen by 50%. More recently, research has shown that the risk of SIDS is increased when infants are in the side sleeping position compared to sleeping on their backs. The AAP now recommends that infants be placed completely on their backs every time they sleep. (One negative effect of this recommendation that should be mentioned is that babies can develop head shape deformities because of too much time on their backs. Infants should always have some “tummy time” while they are awake and being observed.)
Second, use a firm sleep surface. A firm crib mattress covered by a sheet is the safest surface on which an infant can sleep.
Third, keep soft objects and loose bedding out of the sleep area. This includes pillows, comforters, stuffed animals or other toys, and bumper pads. Infants should be placed to sleep in a sleep sack or with a thin blanket that is tucked in around the crib mattress and only comes as high as the infant’s chest. The goal is to minimize the risk of the infant’s face becoming covered by any object.
Fourth, DON’T SMOKE!! This includes during pregnancy and after birth.
Finally, a separate but proximate sleep environment is best for an infant. This can be a crib, bassinette or cradle that has met safety standards. Studies show that the risk of SIDS is decreased when the infant sleeps in the same room as the mother. However, there is mounting evidence that “co-sleeping” or “bed sharing” is dangerous for infants, particularly when parents are excessively tired (and what new parent isn’t?!) or using medications or substances that could impair their alertness.
This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list of ways to prevent SIDS. If you would like more information, including the positive benefits of breastfeeding and pacifier use, please speak with your child’s pediatrician or visit these helpful websites: