Reduce Baby's Risk of SIDS
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Reduce Baby's Risk of SIDS

Every year, 3,400 infants under the age of 1 succumb to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the U.S. Despite years of research, the exact cause of SIDS remains unknown although some experts believe babies with SIDS have an immature arousal center in the brain that makes it difficult or impossible for them to wake themselves up when they're having trouble breathing.

A more recent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University points to another significant contributing factor: smoking during pregnancy.

The study found that infants whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are five times more likely to die unexpectedly compared to babies of nonsmokers.

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS, there are steps you can take to reduce your child’s risk. These include:

QUIT SMOKING: If you smoke and plan to become pregnant, quit. If you are currently pregnant, quit. Quitting is not easy but we now know that continuing to smoke puts your child at serious risk of SIDS.

PRACTICE BACK SLEEPING: Place your baby on their back for all sleep times for their first year. Doing so increases their access to fresh air and makes them less likely to get overheated (another factor linked to SIDS). When baby learns to roll both ways—typically around 6 months, feel free to let them change positions during sleep.

KEEP SLEEP SPACES CLEAR: The only thing that should go in your child’s crib or sleep space is your child. Blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, and even sleep positioners can block your child’s access to air. If you’re worried your child will be chilly without a blanket, invest in a sleep sack or a ‘wearable blanket,’ both of which will keep them warm but won’t hinder breathing.

INVEST IN A GOOD MATTRESS AND BEDDING: Babies sleep safest on a firm and flat mattress that doesn't indent or sag when baby lies on it. Do not use pads or double stack mattresses. Firm and flat is best and be sure to cover the mattress with a tightly fitted sheet.

BREASTFEED: Research show that breastfed babies have a lower risk of SIDS. If at all possible, breastfeed your baby.

USE A PACIFIER: A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) noted a significant decreased risk of SIDS when infants use a pacifier for sleep. The AAP now recommends giving your child a pacifier at night and for naps during their first year. However, if you are breastfeeding, you may want to hold off on introducing a pacifier until your infant is 1 month old and their nursing routine is well-established.

SHARE YOUR BABY’S SLEEP PLAN: Be sure to tell everyone who takes care of your baby how you want them to be put to sleep. Practices have changed over the years and older adults may not be aware of the latest findings and recommendations. Make it your job to bring them up to speed and keep your baby safe.


Lynn Mann, DO, is a pediatrician at SVMC's Northshire Campus in Manchester, VT.


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