Every year several thousand babies die unexpectedly in their sleep, the cause of death unknown. These deaths are the result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, a condition that doctors have yet to explain.
While the nation’s top researchers have worked persistently to better understand SIDS, doctors have not yet determined an exact cause or a way to prevent this silent killer. However, they haveclearly identified a number of factors that stand out in a high percentage of SIDS deaths.
While there’s no proven way to prevent SIDS, experts like those with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say avoiding certain behaviors can help lower your baby’s risk. Here are 5 of the most prominent SIDS risk factors every parent should know about.
Your baby’s sleeping position is by far the biggest SIDS risk factor. In its ‘Task Force on Infant Sleep Position and SIDS,’ the AAP found that babies sleeping on their stomach were as much as 12 times more likely to be affected by SIDS than those sleeping on their backs.
In 1994, the US government launched the ‘Back to Sleep’ to help educate parents about sleep position and SIDS. The results were dramatic, reducing the rate of unexpected infant deaths by half. What’s more, studies across the world have shown that placing babies to sleep on their backs greatly reduces the incidence of SIDS.
As a new parent, you’ll no doubt ready plenty of advice on the benefits of co-sleeping to help your baby sleep through the night. The numbers don’t lie, though, and they show co-sleeping can be a dangerous risk factor for SIDS.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that over the course of eight years, nearly 75% of deaths in babies under four months occurred in a bed-sharing situation.Not all of these deaths were SIDS cases; some were cases of accidental smothering or the baby becoming trapped between the mattress and the wall. No matter what the cause of death, the numbers make it clear: co-sleeping is a risk to your baby.
Items in the crib
While they may seem comforting, soft blankets, pillows and items like stuffed animals can actually pose a danger to your baby.Bedding and other loose objects can become positioned over a baby’s head, and infants under one may not have developed the reflexes to free themselves if they’re lacking oxygen. Doctors believe this may play a contributing role in SIDS.The AAP and the Centers for Disease Control have both taken a position against products like sleep positioners, which can also pose a suffocation risk.
According to the CDC, smoking during pregnancy increases a baby’s risk of SIDS, as does exposing a baby to secondhand smoke after giving birth. Chemicals from secondhand smoke are believed to affect babies’ brains in a way that disturbs the regulation of their breathing.
Additionally, the National Institutes of Health reports that doctors found higher levels of nicotine and cotinine in the lungs of babies who died of SIDS than infants that passed away as a result of other causes.Even if you smoke outside, secondhand smoke can be transferred to your baby on your skin, clothes and hair. So, doctors say the best thing you can do for your baby’s well-being is quit smoking altogether.
Babies should be dressed appropriately for the weather and season, but should not be placed to sleep wearing heavy clothing or blankets. According to the Safe to Sleep Campaign, a high body temperature is associated with a deeper sleep that is more difficult for a baby to wake from. What’s more, past SIDS numbers have shown a spike in the colder months, when babies are more likely to be overdressed. Again, doctors aren’t sure exactly what role temperature plays in SIDS, but they advise babies should always be placed to sleep in the lightest clothing appropriate for the temperature.