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Did you know that every year almost 3,500 babies unexpectedly die due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the United States?
Most sleep-related infant deaths occur due to suffocation, strangulation, and accidental falls resulting from unsafe sleep practices that increase the baby’s risk of SIDS. Another leading cause of SIDS is “unaccustomed tummy sleeping,” where babies who are accustomed to sleeping on their backs are placed on their stomachs. That’s why you should carefully monitor your baby’s crib or sleep space and indulge in safe sleeping practices.
In this article, we will explain some safety standards and practices that can be easily followed in your everyday lives to prevent sleep-related infant death and keep your baby healthy.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected death of a baby during sleep. It is also known as “crib death” since it typically happens at night when they’re asleep in their cribs. Usually diagnosed during the autopsy when the cause of death is unknown, SIDS is common in babies aged one to 12 months.
This syndrome is often referred to as Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID). SUID includes sudden natural deaths (neurological illnesses, cardiac problems, infection, etc.), suffocation, strangulation, and infant homicides. Simply speaking, all SIDS deaths come under the umbrella of SUID, but not the other way round.
Researchers and doctors have not found the precise causes of SIDS but suspect that it may be due to some underlying infant diseases combined with environmental and physical risks. The possible environmental and physical risks that may make your baby susceptible to sleep-related death are:
Although there’s no guaranteed method of preventing premature baby death, studies have found that following safe sleep practices can reduce the risk of SIDS. So, here’s a parent’s guide to safe sleep practices to safely put your baby to sleep.
Be it a short nap time or nighttime sleep, you must ensure your baby sleeps on their back. A baby who sleeps on their back is less likely to die from SIDS compared to those who sleep on their stomachs or sides. It might come as a surprise, but the side position is equally dangerous for babies since they can accidentally roll on their stomachs while sleeping.
Many parents worry about their baby sleeping on their back since it's a common belief that babies can choke in that position. Well, that is totally wrong - your baby’s airway anatomy and natural gag reflex will prevent that from happening. Doctors even recommend babies with gastrointestinal reflex disorders sleep on their backs.
When creating your baby’s sleep space, you should always go for a firm and flat sleeping surface that doesn’t indent a lot when the baby is placed on it. Ideally, it shouldn’t incline more than ten degrees so that your infants sleep flat. However, the sleeping surface should have soft bedding to make your baby comfortable.
Place your baby in a portable crib that meets the safety standards mentioned on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website. If there’s any missing or broken hardware and if the product doesn’t have an instruction manual, don’t use the particular.
Moreover, ensure the crib mattress is the right size and fits perfectly into the crib - it shouldn’t be smaller or larger than the required measurements. And keep pillows, stuffed animals, and other toys out of the crib, even if you’ve seen many crib displays adorned with them. They will eventually increase the baby’s risk of SIDS.
The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend sleeping with your babies, even if you’re traveling or making a house move. If you bring the baby to the bed for feeding, make sure you put the baby to sleep in their own space.
However, if there’s a slight chance that you might fall asleep with your baby in bed, ensure there aren’t any pillows, stuffed toys, or loose bedding materials. These objects can cover your baby’s face or overheat their body.
If you have toddlers at home, make them sleep in a separate room since they’re highly likely to fall asleep while playing with the baby and accidentally harming them. You should also avoid sleeping with your infant on a couch, armchair, or cushion since it increases the risk of SIDS due to lack of support to the baby’s neck.
Moreover, you must absolutely avoid sleeping with the baby and keep them at arm’s reach if:
If you have to have a sleeping baby close to you, consider room-sharing instead of bed-sharing to lower the risk of SIDS. Place the play yards, cribs, or bassinets in the bedroom close to your bed - this will make feeding, comforting, and watching your baby much easier.
Objects like pillows, stuffed animals, quilts, loosely fitted sheets, blankets, comforters, mattress toppers, etc., can increase your baby’s risk of suffocation, entrapment, or, worse, strangulation. These objects can also make your baby accidentally roll on their stomach.
If you’re worried that your baby is feeling cold, dress them in layered clothing or wearable comforters. However, you shouldn’t use heavy quilts, swaddles, or comforters on your baby - they should be kept away from their sleeping space.
Overheating is another cause of SIDS - remember that your baby only needs an extra layer of clothing than what you would normally wear during cold weather. Follow safe sleep practices such as checking if your baby is sweating, has flushed skin, or has a hot chest while sleeping to determine if they’re overheating.
Of course, creating a safe sleep environment is the best way to reduce the chances of SIDS, but there are other ways to reduce the risk as well.
Pediatrics recommend mothers feed their babies human milk as the sole source of nutrition for as long as possible - ideally, for at least six months. If your baby has reached the age when they can eat solid food, don’t stop breastfeeding them until they become at least one year old. This is because breast milk contains important nutrients (colostrum) that your baby will not be able to consume anywhere else.
You must schedule routine prenatal checkups during pregnancy since it helps you detect any early symptoms of disease or illness. This way, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge of handling any disease when your baby is born, thus effectively reducing the risk of infection and SIDS.
Moreover, you should avoid consuming alcohol, marijuana, or illegal drugs during pregnancy and after your baby is born. When exposed to these substances, the baby’s risk of SIDS and premature death increases significantly.
Putting a pacifier in their mouths before placing babies in their crib during nap time can be beneficial in lowering sleep-related deaths. You can start using the pacifier while putting your baby to sleep when they start getting used to breastfeeding and have gained enough weight. If the pacifier falls out of their mouth when they’re asleep, you don’t need to put it back since the risk lasts until they fall asleep.
However, ensure you don’t hang the pacifier around their necks or attach it to their clothing since these practices can lead to strangulation or choking.
You should schedule a particular time of the day as “awake tummy time” and supervise the entire session. This practice helps your baby develop important motor skills and reduces the risk of the flat-head syndrome. Start with a short session and gradually increase tummy time until your baby can lie on their tummy for at least 15 to 30 minutes. Do this every day until they reach seven years of age.
Taking your baby to regular health check-ups will ensure their healthy development and keep their growth on track. You can also diagnose any illness or disorder in its early stage and reduce your baby’s mortality risk.
Ensure your infants get properly vaccinated by a pediatrician to prevent serious and contagious diseases.
Even though many parents swaddle their babies to give them comfort and reassurance, there isn’t any proof that swaddling lowers the risk of SIDS. However, if you decide to swaddle your infant, follow these rules:
Smoking during pregnancy or near your baby can increase the chances of SIDS. Avoid smoking (vaping and e-cigarettes included) around your baby, even when you’re outside. Keep your home relatively smoke-free - remove secondhand smoke where your baby and other nonsmokers hang out. And if you do smoke, regardless of the warnings, don’t cuddle your baby or sleep with them after smoking.
Don’t buy baby products that don’t comply with safe sleep recommendations. Be especially wary of products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related deaths. Scientists haven’t found any evidence that such products really work, so they might actually be harmful to your baby.
Furthermore, avoid using professional cardiorespiratory monitors in hopes of preventing SIDS. If you really want to monitor your baby’s vitals, then go for consumer wellness products like pulse oximeters and heart rate monitors. But you must be aware that these products merely give you a false sense of comfort and security. There’s no evidence that monitoring a baby’s vitals reduces the risk of SIDS.
If it gives you peace of mind, you can use these consumer-grade monitors but don’t use them as a substitute for the above-mentioned safe sleep practices. They are non-negotiable and cannot be replaced by close monitoring.
Sudden baby deaths are very common in the United States, and most of these deaths could have been prevented by the parents if they had taken proper precautions. That’s why the American Association of Pediatrics puts such emphasis on creating a safe sleep environment for your baby.
Besides taking your child to regular checkups and ensuring a healthy pregnancy, you must follow safe sleep precautions until they are at least one year old. Ignore display cribs filled with soft toys, pillows, and comforters, and follow the safety precautions we’ve mentioned in this article. You can also contact your pediatrician and talk to them about the safe sleeping and immunization programs if needed.
That brings us to the end of our detailed guide on safe sleeping for parents, expecting or otherwise. Keep following this website for more informational articles on sleep-related etiquette, issues, illnesses, etc.
Until next time, stay safe!