This post was written by Britte Nihart, MSN, RN, nurse navigator supervisor, Parkview Women’s & Children’s Hospital.
If you’re a new parent or a soon-to-be parent, you may have already heard about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS. Here, we’ll break down the most important questions you may have including what SIDS is, what causes it, and ways you can prevent or minimize the risk of SIDS for your baby.
What is SIDS?
SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It falls under another category referred to as SUID, or Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, which also includes accidental suffocation in a sleeping environment and other unknown causes of infant death. SIDS is one of the leading causes of death in infants up to one year of age.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of SIDS is still unknown. Researchers are looking into the possibility of some kind of defect within the brain that regulates breathing during sleep.
At what age is SIDS most common?
SIDS mostly affects babies between 2-4 months of life. It is thought that there may be some developmental changes occurring in the infant’s nervous system during this time that may make them more prone to SIDS.
At what age is SIDS not a concern?
More than 90% of SIDS deaths occur before the age of six months. However, safe sleep measures should be followed until your child is at least one year old, as it can occur anytime during the first year.
What are the risk factors of SIDS?
Even though the cause of SIDS is unknown, there are many known risk factors. Some are controllable and some are not. The potentially controllable risk factors include:
- Having a premature or low birth weight baby (less than 5 lb. 8 oz.). If you are a woman considering pregnancy, you can minimize the chance of having a low birth weight baby by working toward optimizing your own health before becoming pregnant. This may include seeing your provider for a pre-conception appointment, trying to achieve a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods, exercising, getting help to stop using unhealthy substances and taking prenatal vitamins.
- Having a male infant, as males are slightly more prone to SIDS than female infants.
- Having an infant that is African American, Native American or Alaska Native, as these races have higher SIDS incidences.
- Having an infant who is exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Having an infant who is exposed to drugs, alcohol or tobacco by the mother during pregnancy.
How can you reduce the risk of SIDS?
The most important way that parents can minimize the risk of SIDS for their baby is to implement Safe Sleep measures. Since the Back to Sleep messaging started in the early 1990s, the SIDS rate has decreased by about 75%. These tips include:
- Always put the baby down on his or her back in a separate crib, but in the same room as a parent is sleeping.
- Avoid soft bedding, blankets, pillows or toys in the baby’s bed.
- Do not over-dress baby for bed or cover their heads.
- Never sleep on a couch with your baby, as it can increase the risk of SIDS by up to 50 times!
- Sleep in the same room as your baby (for the first six months), which can cut the risk of SIDS in half.
- Do not let baby sleep in swings, car seats, bouncers, or other devices that are not meant for sleeping. If they fall asleep in one of these, gently move them to their crib as soon as possible.
- Do not allow your baby to be exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Feed your baby breastmilk if possible.
- Do not leave your baby in the care of anyone who is under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.
- Offer a pacifier for sleep.
Realistically, having a newborn can be stressful and exhausting. It can be tempting to bring baby into your bed or let him or her sleep in the swing, especially when you are exhausted. But the risk is just not worth taking. If you aren’t getting much sleep, ask family or friends to watch the baby for a couple of hours so you can nap. Or take turns with your partner — one of you can rock the fussy baby while the other naps. You can also talk to your pediatrician about tips to safely improve your baby’s sleep.
A partnership for better health
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