Health News

October 23, 2018

Fighting to Prevent SIDS

It’s dangerous to put infants to sleep on their tummies. Many parents have gotten that message—but now they have other risk factors to heed.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—the abrupt, unexpected death of a baby younger than age 1—is the number one killer of American children between ages 1 month and 1 year.

The exact cause of SIDS remains unknown. Most babies who die of SIDS have no symptoms, and an autopsy shows no cause of death.

But studies have pinpointed risk factors and learning about them could help you prevent a tragedy.

New Research, New Risks

In the mid-1990s, researchers learned that putting babies to sleep on their stomachs more than doubled their risk of dying of SIDS. An educational campaign that began in 1994 urged caregivers to put babies to sleep on their backs. In the next decade, the U.S. SIDS rate fell by 50 percent.

Research published in Pediatrics found that other behaviors also lead to a higher risk for SIDS. Babies who share a bed with an adult, sleep on an adult mattress, or sleep on soft bedding all have greater chances for SIDS. Putting babies to sleep on their sides, exposing them to cigarette smoke, or having their faces covered as they sleep also raises their risk.

The chances of SIDS climb even higher when these actions involve male or premature babies, or babies born to a mother who drank alcohol or smoked while pregnant.

Other research has shown that most SIDS deaths take place between ages 1 and 4 months.

Controllable Risk Factors

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American SIDS Institute recommend parents and parents-to-be follow these practices to reduce a baby’s SIDS risk:

  • Lower your risk of giving birth prematurely. Get medical care right away when you learn you’re pregnant. See your doctor as recommended while expecting.
  • Don’t smoke or use illegal drugs while pregnant.
  • Plan pregnancies so that you have at least a year between the birth of a child and becoming pregnant again.
  • Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back in a baby bed with a firm mattress. Don’t add covers, bumpers, toys, or pillows.
  • Don’t sleep with your baby in your bed. Keep a crib, bassinet, or play yard that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Products Safety Commission close to your bed until a child is age 1 so that you can see and hear your baby and go to him or her easily.
  • Don’t let anyone smoke near your baby—not even in the same house.
  • Don’t put your baby to sleep wearing clothing that could cause overheating.
  • Offer your baby a clean, dry pacifier at bedtime and nap time, but don't force an infant to take it.
  • Breastfeed your baby to lower the risk for respiratory, stomach, and intestinal infections.
  • Contact your pediatrician at once if your baby sometimes goes limp, stops breathing, or gags excessively.
  • Make sure everyone who takes care of your baby follows safe guidelines for putting the infant to sleep.

About one in five SIDS deaths takes place while someone other than a parent is caring for the baby. These deaths often occur because the caregiver places the baby on his or her tummy. When infants are put to sleep on their stomachs or sides, they are at high risk for SIDS.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

Researchers have found some SIDS risk factors that can’t be changed:

  • Being a twin or other multiple
  • Having a sibling who died of SIDS
  • Being born to a teen mother
  • Being African-American, American Indian, or Alaskan Native

SIDS can’t always be prevented—but by addressing the risk factors that you can change, you can lower the threat to your baby.

Infant Sleep Safety

For more information on infant sleep safety, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website or speak with a SMGAZ practitioner.