SIDS is something that every parent fears, but there are ways to reduce the risk of SIDS for your new baby. While these SIDS prevention tips are not a guarantee, they are precautions worth taking to keep your baby safe.
What is SIDS?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was once a mysterious phenomenon that left parents around the world terrified. Babies were simply sinking into sleep and never waking up, and doctors had no advice on how to prevent it from happening. It wasn’t until the 1970s that researchers started revealing some of the suspected causes and giving parents actionable steps to reduce the risk of SIDS. Today, we have organizations like the American SIDS Institute to give research-backed tips on keeping infants safe.
How to Reduce the Risk of SIDS
Babies between the ages of two to four months are most vulnerable to SIDS, but you should take steps to protect your baby at least for the first year of life. Let’s take a look at 15 ways that you can reduce the risk for your little ones.
1. Eliminate cigarette smoke from your baby’s environment.
This is important when you are pregnant AND when the baby arrives!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the inhalation of secondhand smoke is a contributing factor to SIDS. Secondhand cigarette smoke can also increase the frequency of ear infections, respiratory infections, and asthma attacks in children. The best way to ensure that your habit doesn’t impact your child is to quit smoking.
If you can’t do that, smoking only outside of the home and not smoking in the car with your child is essential. Also make sure that you don’t take your child to smoky environments and that caregivers follow your rules about smoking when you’re not around.
2. Seek routine prenatal care and follow the recommendations of your doctor while pregnant.
Yes, lowering the risk of SIDS may begin before your child is even born. There is a clear connection between prenatal care and SIDS, so all expectant mothers are encouraged to take care of themselves in order to help their babies during development and after birth.
3. Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep.
Research has shown that infants are up to 13 times more likely to suffer from SIDS if they are placed to sleep on their stomachs. Some believe that there is also heightened risk when babies are placed on their sides because infants may easily roll onto their stomachs and don’t have the strength to flip back over. Stomach sleeping is dangerous because babies are prone to inhaling their exhaled breath, may obstruct their upper airway, or may overheat due to ineffective heat distribution.
While some might think that a sleep positioner is the answer, do NOT use one! They’re made from soft foam and can add to the comfort of your baby’s bed while holding him or her in a safe position, but have been linked to deaths of babies who have used them and increase risk of suffocation.
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4. Set your co-sleeping environment up for safety as well as comfort.
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents share their bedroom with their babies but not necessarily their beds. Their policy suggests parents should breastfeed and spend time with their babies in their beds, but the baby should have their own sleeping surface within the room rather than sleeping right next to a parent. This is due to the controversy over co-sleeping contributing to higher rates of SIDS.
Whether you believe that sleeping with your baby may increase his or her risk of SIDS or not, you may find it more convenient to use a cosleeper (like this one) that attaches to the side of your bed or that creates a defined space for the baby within your bed. Many parents like the idea of giving their baby some personal space within the bed even if they don’t believe that sleeping with their child is a safety risk. Consider this the middle ground between independent sleeping and complete co-sleeping. That way baby is close for middle-of-the-night feedings, but not in danger of suffocation.
5. Make sure that your baby’s mattress isn’t too soft.
Research has shown that soft bedding increases the risk of SIDS, which is why most crib mattresses are flat and firm. Resist the urge to fluff it up with a mattress topper or a layer of blankets. While many adults appreciate a pillowtop and other soft comforts, they aren’t worth the risk to your child’s life and stick with a firm mattress designed for babies.
6. Keep stuffed animals and blankets out of the crib.
We know they look adorable. We know that magazines frequently feature pictures of perfectly made cribs lined with soft blankets and cute stuffed animals, but that isn’t ideal or even safe for a real nursery featuring a crib used by a modern baby.
Keep the stuffed animals on a shelf or dresser and use the blankets for comfort while your child is awake. This is an easy step to reduce the risk of your baby suffocating or becoming a victim of SIDS.
There is also no need for blankets. There are many sleep sacks on the market that will keep your little one warm through the first year of his or her life!
7. Closely monitor the temperature in your home and the baby’s nursery.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also suggests that overheating may contribute to some SIDS incidents. In addition to ensuring that the temperature in your home isn’t too warm, the Academy suggests that parents dress their babies in no more than one extra layer of clothing and that they check their infants for sweating and other signs of excessive warmth.
It’s also important not to cover your baby’s head or face while they sleep. Ventilating mattresses that improve airflow around the baby’s head are becoming popular and may give you greater peace of mind, but there isn’t any scientific research to prove that they can help prevent SIDS.
8. Breastfeed as long as possible.
Another benefit of breastfeeding! A lot of research has gone into the connection between breastfeeding and SIDS, and the results are in favor of breastfeeding. Even mothers who breastfeed only for two or three months can lower the risk of SIDS for their babies. How cool is that?
9. Offer a pacifier at bedtime and naptime.
While no one really understands how a pacifier can reduce the risk of SIDS, research has shown that this is true. It is even believed that tummy sleeping becomes much safer when the baby has a pacifier in his or her mouth. This doesn’t mean that you should take the chance and put your baby down on the tummy. It’s best to stick with back sleeping while offering a pacifier to stack the odds in your favor.
One warning though: while attachments that connect pacifiers to your child’s clothing or to hang it around your child’s neck are convenient, they aren’t recommended for infants. These devices can become risks for choking or strangling while your baby is asleep.
10. Never allow a baby under the age of one to eat honey.
Honey is a natural sweetener that many adults enjoy eating, but it increases the risk of infants developing botulism. In turn, botulism may increase a baby’s risk of SIDS. If you make your own baby food, this is one ingredient that you want to leave off the menu.
11. Take advantage of technology to make checking on your baby easier.
You no longer have to tiptoe through a baby’s room in order to check on them during the night or naptime. Take advantage of baby video monitors (we LOVE this one!) that allow you to see your baby without walking into the room. Co-sleeping devices are also useful because they allow you to keep your baby right next to you, allowing you to hear if he or she has trouble breathing. You can also check up on your baby without leaving your own bed on cold nights.
12. Make sure that your baby’s mattress and sheet fit the crib snugly.
It’s important that your baby’s crib fit tightly into the crib without leaving gaps or holes in the corners. The sheet should fit tight so that there is no risk of the corners popping off and preventing a risk of suffocation for your baby. While these measures aren’t necessarily connected to SIDS, they are critical to a safe sleep environment for your baby.
13. Educate every person who occasionally or frequently cares for your baby.
Don’t assume caregivers know what to do to reduce the risk of SIDS just because you do. Make sure to educate them!
The risk of SIDS is present for your baby regardless of who is in charge of their daily routine. If you allow grandparents, nannies, babysitters, or close friends and relatives to care for your baby, you need to educate them on these risks. Make sure that they know how you want your baby to sleep and why following your wishes is so important. If possible, check up on caregivers without warning to ensure that they are following your directions at sleep time.
Take the time to have this discussion with caregivers who don’t put your child to sleep. You never know when your little one is going to need an impromptu nap.
14. Be aware of potential genetic or developmental risks.
Researchers have discovered some potential SIDS risks that relate to internal functioning rather than environmental factors. For instance, it’s believed that some babies experience deficiencies with autonomic functioning and breathing due to issues with their brainstems. While there is no way to determine which babies may suffer from these issues, you can watch your baby for signs of distress or improper breathing while sleeping and awake.
The best thing that you can do is relax and have confidence that you’re doing everything possible to reduce the risks for your baby. If there is a developmental or functional issue, the safety measures on this list may still work to your child’s benefit but your doctor may be able to suggest additional precautions related to your child’s condition or history. As research continues, there may one day be a way to detect these internal problems to dramatically reduce the risk and occurrence of SIDS.
15. Use a Sleep Sack!
As mentioned earlier to reduce the risk of SIDS, sleep sacks are a great alternative to blankets to keep a baby from catching a chill at night but not cause a risk of suffocation. In addition, studies have show that sacks also help babies sleep better once they outgrow swaddling.
While taking these steps can reduce the risk of SIDS, there is no way to prevent SIDS with certainty. The best that you can do is protect your child’s environment and sleeping position while ensuring that your child receives routine medical care so that you know about any conditions that may increase your child’s risk.
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