Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected death of an infant that can’t be attributed to any other causes. While SIDS is nothing short of a tragedy, there is a silver lining: The number of deaths related to SIDS has decreased dramatically over the past few decades. Researchers attribute this trend to an increased awareness of SIDS and effective prevention measures. And it’s true — the best way to protect your baby from SIDS is to know the facts. Read on for 7 things every parent should know about SIDS, including the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ top recommended SIDS prevention measures.
1: SIDS is not related to choking or suffocation.
A common misconception about SIDS is that it’s related to accidental suffocation or choking, but this is not the case. SIDS is one type of SUIDS (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome), suffocation is another. SIDS means the death is unexplainable by any other factors – the cause of death is only said to be SIDS when doctors can’t pinpoint a cause of death, even after an autopsy.
2: There are several different risk factors associated with SIDS, including age.
Most SIDS deaths occur in babies between 1 month and 4 months of age, and the majority (90 percent) of SIDS deaths occur before a baby reaches 6 months of age. But SIDS can strike anytime during a baby’s first year, so medical professionals recommend keeping all safety measures in place until baby’s first birthday. Research also shows that there is a somewhat higher risk of SIDS in babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke, were born to moms under 20 or who smoked during pregnancy, and premature/low birth weight babies.
3: Researchers now believe that babies who suffer from SIDS were not healthy, but had one or more underlying health issues all along.
Though victims of SIDS were once believed to be otherwise healthy babies, researchers are now convinced that SIDS babies only appear healthy and actually have some underlying defect or defects that predisposes them to SIDS.
One possibility: Hearing problems. Dr. Daniel Rubens, anesthesiologist and SIDS researcher, published a small study in 2007 that illustrated a potential link between inner ear problems and SIDS. Of the 31 infants Dr. Rubens studied, all of those who suffered from SIDS had also scored lower on hearing tests, while babies that survived had shown no hearing problems. This research has led Dr. Rubens to believe that undetected inner ear damage may be a hidden culprit behind SIDS, making it difficult for babies to rouse and reposition when they’re having trouble breathing.
In addition, brain abnormalities may come into play: According to the National Institutes of Health, over 40 percent of infants that had died from SIDS were found to have an abnormality in a key part of the brain: the hippocampus, which influences bodily functions like breathing, heart rate, and body temperature.The researchers believe the abnormality may destabilize the brain’s control of breathing and heart rate patterns during sleep, or during short wake-ups throughout the night.
4: Pillows and blankets in the crib aren’t enough on their own to cause SIDS to strike.
Only infants who are already vulnerable to SIDS (i.e. previously mentioned risk factors) will suffer from an unsafe sleep environment. Pillows and blankets in the crib are not necessarily a direct cause of SIDS, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. A baby must already be vulnerable to SIDS in some other way for crib bedding to be a real hazard. But, because you can’t be 100 percent sure if your baby is predisposed to SIDS or not, it’s best to go with a safe sleeping environment — firm mattress, no blankets, pillows, or toys — just in case.
5: SIDS is typically the result of a combination of factors — not just one single thing.
This point ties in with #4 — there are multiple factors in play when it comes to SIDS. Says Dr. Hannah Kinney of Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, it’s not just one single cause, but “a culmination of abnormalities that result in the death.” In fact, when Dr. Kinney and co-researchers examined 45 SIDS cases, they found that 88 percent of cases involved two or more risk factors, such as the baby’s physical position, an illness, or tobacco smoke exposure.
6: Sharing a bedroom with baby can help reduce the risk of SIDS.
Studies show that babies who sleep in the same room as their parents have a lower risk of SIDS. This could be because parents are more likely to hear a baby in distress from across the room rather than across the house. In any case, many health experts including the AAP recommend sharing a room with baby (but not necessarily a bed) for the first six to 12 months. A word of caution: You’ll be much more likely to pick up baby at the slightest stirring if he’s in a crib or bassinet near your bed. Wait out the whimpers and only respond to baby when you know for sure she’s awake and ready for attention. Better sleep all around!
7: Fortunately, the best ways to prevent SIDS are easy and uncomplicated.
The AAP recently updated its SIDS prevention guidelines, so make sure you visit their website for the full list of prevention methods. Some of the most important recommended measures include:
- Putting baby to sleep on his back — time and time again, the most effective SIDS prevention method
- Buying the right bedding — firm sleeping surface, well-fitting sheet, no crib bumpers or extra pillows or blankets
- Offering a pacifier — pacifiers are shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. Don’t worry if she spits it out during the night!
- Keeping baby from overheating — Keep the room between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and don’t layer baby with extra jackets, hats, or blankets