SIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Those words bring fear to parents and pediatricians everywhere. By definition, SIDS is the unexplained death of an infant under one year old. For most of us, it is the unexplained and unpredictable part that is so tragic. Research does suggest that many of these cases are related to immaturity in the portion of the baby’s brain related to arousal and breathing. Since the “Back to Sleep” campaign went public in the 1990s, we have seen a dramatic decrease in SIDS deaths.
While certainly we are not able to prevent all of these tragic cases, there have been several risk factors that have been identified. When we clinicians meet with families in the early newborn days, we discuss safe sleeping habits to help reduce the risk of SIDS.
While we don’t know for sure, research has shown several factors that might increase a baby’s risk:
Sex. Boys are slightly more at risk.
Age. Highest risk appears to be between 2-4 months old
Family history. Higher rate if sibling or cousin has died
Race. Unclear why, but higher rate in non-white infants
Secondhand smoke. Babies who share a house with smokers have higher risk
Prematurity. Being born early, as well as low birth weight can increase chances
Young maternal age under age 20
Parental use of drugs or alcohol
So what can parents do?
- Practice safe sleeping. Baby always sleeping on their back in their own firm surface: Crib, Bassinet, Pack n Play, etc.
- Nothing soft or cuddly within the sleep surface. Yes, that means no bumpers, blankets, or stuffies
- Good air circulation: a fan in the room. Being too warm has been associated with SIDS, ideal temperature thought to be between 68-72 degrees. After the initial days in the hospital, newborns do not need to be wearing a hat to sleep
- If your baby takes a pacifier, there seems to be some association with decreased SIDS death in the first 6 months
- Do not bed share. While there has been some research that may suggest a decreased risk of SIDS if the family is sharing the same room as the baby, sharing a bed with a parent, sibling, or pet has been shown to dramatically increase the risk of SIDS
As parents, we have all been through those early days of exhaustion with a newborn. While there are a lot of baby devices (ie swings, bouncers, pillows, etc.) that are marketed towards helping babies and families, unfortunately they all are to be used under direct supervision of an adult, and are not meant to be used as safe baby sleep surfaces. In recent years there have been unfortunate cases of infant deaths that have led to massive recalls of these popular items: Rock n Play, as well as the Boppy Baby Pillow.
If you are struggling with sleep, please reach out to your pediatrician or nurse practitioner. Please also reach out if you are struggling with exhaustion. While we can’t take away all of the stress, we certainly can help brainstorm ways to keep your baby safe, and you thriving as much as possible.