Bringing Up Baby: Researchers Find New Ways to Prevent SIDS

The number of cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has declined substantially in recent years—down 26 percent from 2009 to 2013—as researchers learn more about SIDS and how to prevent it. SIDS is the unexplained, sudden death of a baby younger than age 1. Unfortunately, SIDS is still the number one cause of infant death in the United States. However, a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that there may be new ways to help lower the frequency of SIDS even further. It might be as simple as running a fan in a sleeping infant’s room to increase air circulation.

Ventilation Makes a Difference

Researchers in the study interviewed 185 mothers of infants who died of SIDS about their infant’s sleeping environment, including sleep position, the type of bedding used, room temperature, whether a pacifier was used, and the use of a fan. They then compared these results to those of a control group of 312 mothers. The results found that running a fan in a sleeping infant’s room lowered the risk for SIDS by 72 percent. That risk was lowered even further when the infant’s sleeping conditions put him or her at higher risk for SIDS, such as sleeping in a warm room or sleeping on the stomach.  

While researchers still aren’t exactly sure what causes SIDS, one potential factor is rebreathing carbon dioxide that has been exhaled. Researchers believe that exhaled carbon dioxide may get trapped near an infant’s mouth and nose during sleep when there isn’t adequate ventilation. Soft bedding, sleeping on the stomach or side, or having the head covered during sleep may all lead to decreased ventilation—and increased risk.

Reducing the Risk for SIDS

Although running a fan during sleep time is one way parents can provide adequate ventilation to help protect their infants from SIDS, it’s not enough. Parents should maintain a safe sleep environment by always placing infants to sleep on their backs—including at naptime. Infants should have a firm sleep surface, such as a crib mattress. Never put a baby to sleep on quilts, pillows, blankets, or other soft surfaces and don’t place loose bedding or soft objects, including bumper pads, in your baby’s crib. Have your baby sleep in your room, close to your bed, but on a separate surface, such as a crib, bassinet, or play yard that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Do not sleep in the same bed as your baby because this raises the risk of the child suffocating or getting trapped while sleeping sleep. Following all these recommendations can help reduce the risk for SIDS.

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