SIDS, the sudden, unexplainable death of a baby under 1 year old, is the leading cause of death for infants from 1 month to 1 year of age.
By Deirdre Wilson
New parents are obsessed with keeping their babies safe. Many will tell you that they check on their sleeping infants repeatedly just to be sure the babies are still breathing.
The fact that, each year, 2,500 infants in the United States are victims of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a big reason why. SIDS, the sudden, unexplainable death of a baby under 1 year old, is the leading cause of death for infants from 1 month to 1 year of age. Typically, parents will check on a sleeping infant and find her dead – a tragedy that haunts them for the rest of their lives, according to the American Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Institute.
Not All Parents Follow Guidelines
And yet, despite 16 years of public health messages urging parents to follow a set of guidelines proven to help prevent SIDS, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 26 percent of mothers of 3-month-old babies don’t adhere to recommendations to:
• always put an infant to sleep on his back,
• keep the crib free of soft objects like stuffed toys, pillows and quilts, and
• not have the baby sleep in the same bed with his parents.
These guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are based on the idea that infants may be suffocating after turning their faces into soft bedding or nearby soft objects. And they’ve been shown to work. From 1992 to 2003, the rate of SIDS deaths actually dropped by more than half (from 1.2 deaths per 1,000 live births to 0.53 deaths per 1,000). The decline was attributed to health recommendations, which began in 1992, to put babies to sleep on their backs instead of their stomachs.
SIDS Prevention Advice
Research points to the use of fans and the training of childcare providers in SIDS prevention as other effective ways to reduce the incidence of SIDS.
A study by Kaiser Permanente’s research division found that using a fan in a baby’s sleeping room cut an infant’s risk of SIDS by 72 percent, compared to rooms with no fan. Kaiser Permanente researchers also found that infants using a pacifier while sleeping were at reduced SIDS risk, perhaps because the pacifier prevented an infant from pressing completely up against soft bedding or a mattress.
Meantime, the AAP is reporting that training childcare providers in SIDS prevention also helps reduce risk. An estimated 20 percent of SIDS deaths occur while a baby is in the care of someone other than the parent, the AAP reports.
In one study, 1,212 providers in 264 childcare programs received AAP-approved SIDS prevention training that emphasized placing infants to sleep on their backs. Following the training, the providers reported an increased understanding (from 59.7 percent to 87.8 percent) of the need to do this. And the percentage of providers who actually did place infants on their backs increased from 51 percent to 62.1 percent.
The study underscores the need for continued education of parents, expanded training of parents and caregivers and even statewide mandates regarding SIDS prevention in childcare settings, the AAP reports.
The American SIDS Institute recommends the following additional tips to help reduce SIDS risk:
• Keep the baby’s crib in the parents’ room until the infant is at least 6 months old (studies show that infants are safest when their beds are close to their mothers).
• Have your sleeping baby dressed in just enough clothes to keep her warm, without having to use a blanket. And keep the room temperature at a comfortable setting. Overheating may increase the risk of SIDS.
• Don’t expose your infant to tobacco smoke. The greater the exposure, studies have found, the greater the risk of SIDS.
• Breastfeed your baby, if possible, since studies have shown that breastfed babies have a lower incidence of SIDS than formula-fed babies.
• Don’t expose your baby to people with respiratory infections; SIDS has often been associated with minor colds or gastrointestinal infections.
• Talk to your pediatrician immediately if your baby experiences periods of not breathing, going limp or turning blue, or if your baby stops breathing or gags excessively after spitting up.