Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant under the age of one year. The majority of SIDS cases are babies who die in their sleep. SIDS is a tragic occurrence that leaves parents despairing and often blaming themselves, because in most cases, doctors can find no medical reason for death.
The number of SIDS cases has declined in recent years, largely owing to an increased awareness and preventative education for new parents. Due to the recognition of known risk factors and learning proper sleeping techniques, the annual SIDS rate has been cut in half since the early 1990s. While there is still much to learn about SIDS, it is known that the risk factors increase under certain circumstances. These include premature birth with a birth weight of 3.5 lbs (1.588 kilograms) or less, babies born to teenage mothers, exposure to tobacco smoke or narcotics in utero or after birth, and babies who have had older siblings die from SIDS.
Experts suggest that one way for a mother to reduce her baby’s risk of SIDS is to seek routine medical care early in her pregnancy. Breastfeeding when possible is also recommended, as studies have shown that breast-fed babies have a lower rate of SIDS than formula-fed babies. Expectant mothers should also avoid exposure to tobacco smoke and other narcotic drugs.
It is also believed that an infant’s sleeping arrangements can contribute to SIDS. An infant who sleeps in a crib with too much padding, whether from blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals, can begin to inhale the carbon dioxide expelled from his lungs if the padding covers his face. Similarly, sleeping on the stomach increases the risk of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing infants to sleep on their back or side and using only a firm, properly fitting crib mattress with a fitted sheet and no other blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals.
When putting an infant to bed, make sure she is dressed comfortably for the room temperature, but do not overdress her. The risk of SIDS can also be reduced by utilizing monitors with infants who are already at risk. Any mother of an at-risk infant can discuss monitors with her child’s pediatrician. Awareness of risk factors and prevention are the most effective ways to reduce the rate of SIDS. If you have an infant or are expecting, talk to your doctor for more information.