Here is a snapshot of our nightly conversation after my husband has put our infant to bed:

Me: Did you remember to turn the fan on?

Husband: Yes.

Me: Is it too hot in there for him? I don’t want him to be hot.

Husband: Seemed to be fine.

Me: Did he take the pacifier?

Husband: Yes, he has it now.

Me: Is he swaddled, but not too tight?

Husband: I think so.

Me: Did you make sure he is on his back, not his side?

Husband: Yes, he is on his back.

Me: Did you make sure nothing was near his face?

Husband: Yes

Me: OK, thanks for putting him to bed.

And then I go in to check on him.

Might seem a little crazy but all of the above things are related to decreasing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). So what is SIDS anyway and what are specific ways to reduce the risk?

SIDS is the leading cause of death infants between 1 month and 1 year in the United States. SIDS is defined as the sudden death of an infant younger than one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation. Most cases of SIDS involve infants between the ages of 2 and 4 months and 90 percent are less than 6 months old. The exact cause of SIDS is still not known but recent research suggests it may be related to a combination of an underlying vulnerability (such as a subtle brain abnormality or a genetic pattern), a trigger event (ex:blocked or decreased airflow, smoke exposure or infection) and decreased arousal in the immature brain of an infant.

Decreasing the risk of SIDS

The hard truth about SIDS is that parents can do everything ‘right’ and still suffer the loss of an infant to SIDS. There is no way to prevent SIDS but what we can do as parents is implement strategies to decrease the risk of SIDS.

  • Pregnant women should receive regular prenatal care and should not smoke during pregnancy.
  • Babies should be placed on their backs to when put down to sleep, even for naps. This is a BIG one and carries the most evidence that it decreases the risk for SIDS. The rate of SIDS has decreased by 50% since the American Academy of Pediatrics “Back to Sleep” campaign started in 1992.
  • Keep soft objects such as blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, bumpers, etc. away from sleeping babies
  • Always use a firm sleep surface.
  • For the first 6 months the safest place for an infant to sleep is in a crib or bassinet in the parents’ room (room sharing without bed sharing).
  • Infants should not be exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Infants should be immunized. Evidence shows that immunizations decrease the risk of SIDS.

There are other factors that might help protect against SIDS but are not well proven. These include breastfeeding, avoiding overheating the infant, using a fan in the infant’s room, and using a pacifier as the infant is falling asleep (but not reinserted once the infant is asleep). Taking these important steps will not only help your baby sleep safely, but you should be able to relax and get a good night’s sleep, too. And I know you need it… who doesn’t? Rest well.

Featured Expert

Heather Battles, MD
Emergency Medicine

Dr. Heather Battles starts her days as a mom of four and ends them as an urgent care physician for Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Westerville Close To Home clinic.

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