Parents who know about SIDS may think of it as their worst nightmare. Sudden infant death syndrome is known as SIDS or crib death. It’s when a baby 12 months or younger dies during sleep with no warning signs or a clear reason.
Before your worries keep you from sleeping at night, know that although there is no 100% way to prevent SIDS, there is a lot you can do lower your baby’s risk. Since parents widely began following the steps below, the SIDS rate in the United States has dropped more than 50%.
Put a Sleeping Baby on His Back
Your baby’s risk of SIDS is very high any time he sleeps on his side or stomach. (A baby placed on his side can roll over on his stomach.) These positions put your baby’s face in the mattress or sleeping area, which can smother him.
So, every time you put your baby in his bed to sleep — for naps, at night, or any time — lay him down on his back.
Tell anyone who takes care of your baby how essential it is to lay your sleeping baby on his back each time. That includes grandparents, babysitters and childcare providers, older siblings, and others. They may think one time won’t matter, but it can. When a baby who usually sleeps on his back is suddenly laid on his stomach to sleep, the risk of SIDS is very high.
If you’re worried your baby might choke while sleeping on his back, don’t be. Choking is very rare, and healthy babies tend to swallow or cough up fluids automatically. If you’re concerned, ask your pediatrician about elevating the head of your baby’s bed.
Once your baby can roll over both ways, which usually happens around 6 months, he may not stay on his back. That’s OK. It’s fine to let him choose his own sleep position once he knows how to roll over.
Firm Bed, No Soft Toys or Bedding
To prevent smothering or suffocation, always lay your baby down to sleep on a firm surface, like a safety-approved mattress with a fitted sheet. All your baby’s crib needs is the fitted sheet — don’t put blankets, quilts, pillows, sheepskin, stuffed toys, or crib bumpers in your baby’s crib.
To confirm the safety of your baby’s mattress or crib contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772 or www.cpsc.gov.
Don’t Smoke Around Your Baby
Here’s a huge incentive to stop smoking before you get pregnant: Babies born to women who smoked during pregnancy die from SIDS three times more often than babies born to nonsmokers. Smoking when you’re pregnant is a major risk factor for SIDS, and second-hand smoke around your infant also increases the chances of SIDS. Don’t let anyone smoke around your baby.
Keep Your Sleeping Baby Close, but Not in Your Bed
When a baby sleeps in the same room as mom, studies show it lowers the risk of SIDS. But it’s dangerous for a baby to sleep with another child or an adult in the same bed, in an armchair, and on a couch.
If you bring your baby into your bed for comforting or breastfeeding, be sure to put the baby back in his own cradle, bassinet, crib, or co-sleeper (a crib-like bed that attaches to an adult bed) when you’re ready to sleep.
Never bring the baby to bed with you when you’re very tired or using medicines that affect your sleep.
Breastfeed as Long as You Can
Breastfeeding your baby can lower the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%, though experts aren’t sure why. Some think breast milk may protect babies from infections that increase their SIDS risk. Do not drink alcohol if you breastfeed because that increases your baby’s risk of SIDS.
Immunize Your Baby
Evidence shows babies who’ve been immunized in accordance with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC have a 50% reduced risk of SIDS compared with babies who aren’t fully immunized.
Consider Using a Pacifier to Put Baby to Sleep
Putting your baby to sleep with a pacifier may also help prevent SIDS, though researchers aren’t sure why. There are a few tips to follow when using a pacifier:
- If you’re breastfeeding, wait until your baby is at least 1 month before starting to use a pacifier. Introducing a pacifier too soon can lead to nipple confusion and cause your baby to prefer the pacifier’s nipple over your own.
- Don’t force your baby to take the pacifier if he doesn’t want it.
- Put the pacifier in your baby’s mouth when you put him down to sleep, but don’t put it back in his mouth after he falls asleep.
- Keep the pacifier clean, and buy a new one if the nipple is damaged.
- Don’t coat the pacifier with honey, alcohol, or any other substance.
Keep Your Baby From Overheating
Because overheating may raise a baby’s risk of SIDS, dress your infant in light, comfortable clothes for sleeping, and keep the room temperature at a level that’s comfortable for an adult.
If you’re worried about your baby staying warm, dress him in a “onesie,” pajamas that cover arms, legs, hands, and feet. Remember, don’t use a blanket — your baby can get tangled in it or pull the blanket over his face.
Steer Clear of Products That Claim to Reduce the Risk of SIDS
It’s best to avoid any product that says it can reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS because most aren’t proven safe or effective. Cardiac monitors and electronic respirators also haven’t been proven to reduce SIDS risk, so avoid these, too.
Don’t Give Honey to an Infant Under 1 Year Old
Because honey can lead to botulism in very young children, never give honey to a child under 1 year old. Botulism and the bacteria that cause it may be linked to SIDS.
Remember, your baby’s health care provider is always available to answer any questions you have about SIDS, SIDS prevention, and keeping your baby warm, happy, and safe.