It’s something no parent should have to worry about–yet tragically, each year parents experience their worst nightmare. Sudden infant death syndrome (commonly called SIDS) occurs when a healthy baby under 12 months dies during sleep without explanation. October is SIDS Awareness Month and we’re here to give you a breakdown on what it is, tips on how to help prevent it, and ways to educate your friends and family.
In 2018, there were about 1,300 infants that passed away from SIDS in the US – this number has dropped more than 60% from 1992 when the American Academy of Pediatrics launched an advocacy campaign and issued safe sleep recommendations.
Although it’s rare, in the United States it’s actually the most common cause of death for babies under the age of one–and it’s most common for babies between 2 to 4 months old. Although the actual risk is low, there are things you can do to help lower your baby’s risk to keep them safe at night.
What are the causes and risk factors of SIDS?
Sadly, the cause of SIDS cases is usually unknown. Researchers are looking into explanations including forms of sleep apnea and abnormalities in the brain.
So although we don’t exactly know what causes it, we do know more about the risk factors that may increase its likeliness. The biggest risk is placing a newborn down on their stomach or side instead of their back. It’s not clear why, but studies show that SIDS can be up to 12 times more likely to happen when babies sleep on their stomachs compared to their backs. Around 6 months old, babies may not want to stay on their backs and roll over to a sleep position on their back or side, but this is ok! Once they can roll over by themselves it’s generally okay to let them choose what position is comfortable–but you can talk to your pediatrician if you want to know more.
Although it’s unclear why, male infants are at a slightly higher risk of SIDS than their female counterparts. Native American and black babies are also 2 times more likely to die from SIDS than others. Some other risk factors include:
- Low birth weight
- Respiratory infections
- Premature birth or birth of multiples
- Secondhand smoke
- Mom under the age of 20
- Old cribs or ones that contains blankets or toys
- Not breastfeeding or using a pacifier
Here are 10 things you can do to help prevent SIDS:
- Put baby on their back. We know we already mentioned this, but it really is one of the most important ways you can help prevent SIDS. Even placing a baby on their side gives them the ability to roll over on their stomach and put their face into the mattress, leaving them with little room to breathe. So every time you lay them down for a nap, make sure you place them securely on their back. You should also try to not let them sleep in a car seat, stroller, or baby seat for long periods of time and instead transfer them to their crib (of course, on their back). You also don’t need to worry too much about baby choking in this position, as long as they’re healthy they tend to cough or swallow fluids immediately.
- Keep them close, but not in your bed. Studies show having baby’s crib in your room actually lowers the risk of SIDS–but that risk goes up when you bring them into your bed, armchair, or couch to sleep. This also means you shouldn’t let them sleep with anyone else like another child or adult because unfortunately, the risk is still there. We also understand mom might be tired while feeding after baby wakes up hungry in the middle of the night. So if you’re worried this will happen, try propping yourself up on something only semi-comfy like a large pillow, and position yourself away from edges in a way that will be safe for your baby if you happen to doze off (no slipping and falling off the couch).
- Clear the bed and keep it firm. You might think your baby needs the softest mattress and plenty of blankets to stay warm at night, but they really don’t. Instead, they should have a firm mattress with just a fitted sheet–and don’t leave any toys for them inside the crib and remove bumper pads. Anything else can possibly cause smothering or suffocation when baby moves around or kicks their arms and legs during the night. If you want to check the safety of your crib or mattress, you can contact the Consumer Product safety Commission here.
- Dress light at night. Since you don’t want to put any blankets in the crib at night, you might want to bundle baby up with warm clothes to sleep in – but the risk of overheating may raise the risk of SIDS. Dress baby in light, soft clothes or onesies and keep the room at the same temperature you like (68 to 72 degrees F). You can also use a “sleep sack”, which is essentially a blanket but made for sleeping – don’t use a regular blanket because baby can get tangled and possibly cover their face. Overwrapping and swaddling your baby can lead them to trying to wriggle out during the night to move into a more comfortable position. So even if it seems like they’re cozy when you put them down, make sure they aren’t wrapped too tight and their clothes are secure.
- Get those vaccinations. No matter what your views on vaccines are, the truth is that evidence shows babies who get the recommended vaccinations, as per the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC, are 50% less likely to suffer from SIDS than babies who aren’t fully immunized. This simple step should not be overlooked.
- Breastfeed for as long as you can, if you can. Breastfeeding has major benefits to baby’s health, but it can also cut the risk of SIDS in half. Scientists don’t exactly know why, but they believe it might have something to do with breastmilk providing antibody protection to infections. Try to get plenty of skin-to-skin contact while breastfeeding. If you’re not breastfeeding, then you should definitely try spending extra time cuddling baby during the day as that contact with mom is vital for healthy development. Who doesn’t love a little extra cuddling time!
- Don’t smoke, especially around baby. Babies born to women who smoked during pregnancy are 3 times more likely to suffer from SIDS than babies born to non-smoking mothers. But the risk doesn’t stop there: if you smoke around your baby and they breathe in secondhand smoke, that risk increases. Even if you think they’re far enough away from people, if you can smell it, so can your baby–and that means they might be breathing in harmful pollutants that aren’t good for their health. Don’t let anyone smoke around baby and make it a rule that it doesn’t happen inside the home. And if you’re looking to get help and want to stop smoking, check out these free tools to quit smoking now.
- Think about a pacifier. Again, researchers don’t know why, but using a pacifier when putting baby to sleep might help reduce the risk of SIDS. Wait until they’re breastfeeding regularly, they should be at least 1 month old, before starting a pacifier as it can lead to nipple confusion and make them want the pacifier more than your breast. If they turn away and don’t want it, don’t force it in their mouths either. They should be awake when you put the pacifier in their mouth, never after they’re already asleep. The FDA recommends against putting honey on pacifiers, and the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC both advise against children less than 1 eating honey.
- Don’t trust products claiming to reduce SIDS risk. You shouldn’t trust everything you see–any product claiming to reduce the risk of SIDS might not have been tested and proven safe or effective. Cardiac monitors and electronic respirators also technically don’t lower the risk of SIDS. Talk to your pediatrician about safe products for baby.
- Listen to the professionals. Many will claim there are benefits from doing things we’ve listed above as unsafe, but this comes with its own risks. Medical organizations like the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics base their recommendations off of comprehensive research analyses that study many babies from all over the country. There will always be outliers and people that beat the odds, but we personally don’t believe it’s worth the risk to ignore the precautions. Research shows the things listed above can help keep your baby safe and lower the risk of SIDS, a syndrome we don’t quite understand yet. So it’s best to play it safe, and listen to the research–not your friend that “read something online” or “had no issues” with that.
How can we support each other?
The National Institutes of Health (NHI) is running a #SafeSleepSnap campaign to promote safe infant sleep practices by having parents and caregivers post a photo of their baby sleeping safely on social media. Post your photos for friends and family to spread awareness and advocacy.
Parents desperately want to keep their babies safe so help support others by encouraging positive sleep habits on social media and sharing reputable resources. If you ever see someone post an unsafe sleep photo on social media here’s a few do’s and don’ts to stay respectful and offer a good learning opportunity:
- Send them a direct message and don’t attack or use harsh language. Let them know that you don’t think it shows safe sleep habits and you wanted to share these resources with them to learn more, CDC and NIH. It’s best to direct them straight to the resources, so they can learn all about safe practices from medical professionals.
- If you can’t directly message them, leave a comment on the post to the links instead and let them know you wanted to share these resources with them, or ask them to message you if you feel comfortable.
Make sure you share this post with your parents, grandparents, babysitters, or any person that may care for your child. A simple mistake of placing a baby on their side or with too many blankets in a crib could have horrible consequences. Although SIDS is rare, it unfortunately still happens. We hope you’ll help spread awareness about safe sleep habits to help protect babies and families from such a tragedy.
Check out the Baby2Body App for postpartum guidance and safe practices like the ones listed above. There’s so many misconceptions out there on what’s safe and what’s not, so we take the research, science, and medically-backed recommendations to give you the tools you need to be the best mother you can be!