11 Steps To Help Prevent SIDS

It's vital for all parents to know how to lower their baby's risk of SIDS. Today, we'll cover 11 steps you can take to help protect your baby.

SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is a heartbreaking occurrence where a baby dies in their sleep --- usually, without warning.

About 3,400 U.S. infants under 1 die from SIDS per year. This makes SIDS relatively rare in the US. 

But there's a reason why it's relatively rare --- parent awareness.

Even though we don't know what causes SIDS, we know many of its risk factors. 

We also know several steps that parents and caregivers can take to help prevent SIDS.

And many of these steps are related to creating a safe sleep environment for your little one in their first year of life.

It's vital for all parents to know how to lower their baby's risk of SIDS. Today, we'll cover 11 steps you can take to help protect your baby. 

1. Put baby to sleep on their back!

Putting baby to sleep on their back  is the number one step parents can take to help prevent SIDS. This applies every time you put baby to sleep, whether that's at night or for a nap, until their first birthday

Research from several international sources has shown that babies who sleep on their backs are at significantly lower risk for SIDS, compared to babies who sleep on their stomach or side.  As the NIH reports, "Compared with back sleeping, stomach sleeping increases the risk of SIDS by 1.7 - 12.9."

This is because sleeping on the stomach may put baby at risk for a blocked airway. Stomach sleeping may also increase a baby's risk of "rebreathing" their own air and taking in too much carbon dioxide. And sleeping on the side increases the odds that baby will roll over onto their stomach. 

So, remember: Back to sleep --- for every sleep!

2. Have baby sleep on their own sleeping surface

Keeping baby in their own crib or bassinet is another way to help reduce SIDS risk. Baby needs to have their own separate sleep surface to be safest. This is much safer than sharing the adult bed with your baby, or having baby share a bed with a sibling.  Even twins and multiples should each have their own separate sleeping surface.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, baby is at increased risk of suffocation --- and SIDS --- when they share a bed with someone else. This is because bedding, pillows, other objects in the bed, or even a moving person could obstruct baby's breathing unintentionally. 

And giving baby their own sleeping surface is particularly important for the youngest babies. 

For babies younger than 4 months of age, SIDS risk increases by five times if baby sleeps in the same bed as someone else.

(You can bring baby into your own bed to feed them, but make sure there are no loose pillows or blankets directly nearby.  And once you're finished feeding, return them to their bed to keep them safest.)

Learn more about reducing the risk of SIDS with the CDC's Safe Sleep guidelines:

3. Have baby sleep in the same room as parents or caregivers

Even though baby should not share a bed with you, baby is safest when they sleep in the same room as you (the parent or caregiver), with their sleeping surface positioned close to your bed. As the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports, "Room sharing... can decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50% and... will make it easier for you to feed, comfort, and watch your baby."

Most crucially, having baby in the same room means it's easier to respond quickly if they are in distress.

Keeping baby in the same room as you should continue for at least baby's first six months of life, and ideally, for their first year of life.

4. Keep baby's crib clear of loose objects

A bare crib or bassinet, with just the mattress, a well-fitted sheet,  and no loose objects, is the safest sleep surface for babies under one year of age.

This means you'll need to avoid placing loose blankets, pillows, stuffed animals and other objects on baby's sleep surface until they turn one year old. Loose objects are a hazard that can increase a baby's risk for SIDS and suffocation. 

So, never cover baby with a loose blanket! And make sure baby's head and deck stay completely uncovered during sleep!

What if the weather is colder? You can dress baby in a wearable blanket to keep them warm, or swaddle them. This way, they won't be covered in unsafe loose blankets, but they'll still be comfortable on a cold night.

5. Keep baby's head flat during sleep times

Baby needs to sleep flat on their crib surface to be safest. Never prop their head up with a pillow, crib wedge, "sleep positioner," or other object. 

The U.S Food and Drug Administration warns that all baby sleep positioners, and all methods that involve propping baby in their crib, are unsafe. This is because propping increases the risk that baby will roll onto their stomach or side, putting them at increased risk for suffocation and SIDS.

6. Remember the ABCs for safe sleep

To help make sure baby's sleep environment is safest, remember the ABCs of safe sleep. These will help remind you of the three most important ways to lower baby's SIDS risk.

A --- Alone: Baby needs to sleep on their own sleeping surface. But as long as they're in their own crib or bassinet, keeping them in the same room as you is best.

B --- Back: Always put baby to sleep on their back, every time you put them to sleep!

C --- Clear Crib: Nothing should be in the crib except for baby. The crib must be clear of any and all loose objects, including pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to reduce SIDS risk, as we will cover below.

 

7. Have baby sleep on a firm mattress 

Make sure that baby sleeps on a firm crib mattress --- one that doesn't sink or feel too soft. The mattress must also meet current safety standards for a baby sleep surface.

If baby sleeps on any overly soft surface that sinks down, including a soft mattress, adult mattress, waterbed, or sofa, that increases baby's risk of SIDS and suffocation. 

How to know if a crib mattress is firm enough to keep baby safe? It should not form an impression around the shape of baby's head when baby lays on it.

You can test this using your hand. The mattress should not form around the shape of your hand when you press down on the center on the edges. Instead, it should snap back.

8. Make sure that baby stays cool

Baby needs to stay cool enough during sleep, as overheating can increase baby's SIDS risk. So can being over-clothed, as this could lead to overheating.

Make sure baby is dressed only in the clothing they need to be comfortable for bed, and that their sleeping environment is comfortable (not too warm). 

And be alert for signs of overheating, including sweating and a chest that feels hot to the touch.

9. Keep baby away from secondhand smoke

If baby is exposed to harmful chemicals from cigarette smoke, this may increase their risk of SIDS. 

So, do not smoke around baby (even if you are outside).

Keep your car and home completely smoke-free. 

Keep baby away from anyone else who is smoking a cigarette (again, even outside).

Also, keep baby away from places where people commonly smoke.  

Do not allow any smoking around your little one!

10. Consider breastfeeding 

Every baby --- and every family --- is different. Parents should feel empowered to make whichever feeding decision works best for them and baby. But it's important for moms to know that breastfeeding (including feeding pumped breastmilk) reduces baby's risk of SIDS. And the longer you exclusively breastfeed, the lower baby's risk for SIDS.

Again, though, if you breastfeed in bed, be sure to put baby back into their separate sleep area immediately after feeding. 

It's still safer to breastfeed in bed than on a sofa or chair if you think you may fall asleep. But  if you accidentally fall asleep, put baby back into their separate sleep surface as soon as you wake. This will minimize the time baby spends sharing the bed with you (as bed-sharing is unsafe).

11.  Consider a pacifier

Offering a pacifier for naps and at bed can reduce any baby's SIDS risk, no matter how they are fed.

Just make sure the pacifier is not attached to anything, like a string, a stuffed toy, clothes, or a blanket, as these increase baby's risk of SIDS and strangulation.

If you're breastfeeding, wait until breastfeeding is well established before starting the pacifier. Usually, that will be as early as 3-4 weeks of age.

If you're bottle-feeding, start offering the pacifier as soon as you would like. 

Either way, don't force the pacifier. Only continue to offer it if baby takes to it well.

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