By Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA) BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE
As an expectant parent, new parent, or caregiver of an infant, it is important to understand ways in which you can keep your baby safe, including -- and especially -- during sleep times. SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, is when an infant under the age of one dies suddenly and the death cannot be explained by other causes. Approximately 2,000 infants die each year from SIDS in the United States. There are, however, several things you can do to reduce your child's risk of SIDS. In recognition of SIDS Awareness Month this October, take a moment to read and share the following information.
What is SIDS?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is defined as the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted that includes a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and a review of the medical history. SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants aged 1 to 12 months in the United States. African American and American Indian/Alaskan Native babies are twice as likely to die of SIDS as white babies.
Most SIDS deaths occur in babies between 1 month and 4 months of age, and the majority (90%) of SIDS deaths occur before a baby reaches 6 months of age. However SIDS deaths can occur anytime during a baby’s first year. Slightly more boys die of SIDS than girls.
Since the USA introduced the Safe to Sleep® campaign (formerly known as the Back to Sleep Campaign) in 1994, the number of infants dying of SIDS has dropped by 50%.
What SIDS is not
- SIDS is not suffocation nor is it caused by suffocation
- Vaccines and immunizations do not cause SIDS
- SIDS is not a result of choking or vomiting
- SIDS is not caused by neglect or child abuse
- SIDS is not contagious
- SIDS is not caused by strangulation
What causes SIDS?
While the cause of SIDS is not know, there is more and more evidence that infants who die from SIDS have brain abnormalities that interfere with how the brain communicates with the parts of the nervous system that control breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, waking from sleep, temperature and other things. More information on what researchers are finding as they work to identify the cause of SIDS can be found here.
What are the risk factors for SIDS?
There are several risk factors that put babies at higher risk of SIDS. Childbirth educators should be providing this information to families during class. These risk factors include:
- Being put to sleep on their stomachs
- Being put to sleep on couches, chairs, or other soft surfaces or under soft coverings
- Being too hot during sleep
- Being put to sleep on or under soft or loose bedding
- Being exposed to smoke in utero, or second hand cigarette smoke in the home or car, or the second hand smoke of care-givers or family.
- Sleeping in an adult bed with parents, other children or pets especially if:
- Bed-sharing with an adult who smokes, recently had alcohol or is tired
- Sleeping with more than one bed sharer
- Covered by a blanket or a quilt
- Younger than 14 weeks of age
NOTE: If you plan to or are bed-sharing with your infant, it is important for you to know what safe bed sharing looks like. I recommend “Sharing Sleep with Your Baby” by Robin Elise Weiss for resources on this topic.
What reduces the risks of SIDS?
You can do many things to reduce the risk of your infant dying from SIDS. Risk reductions include:
- Always place a baby to sleep on his/her back
- Have the baby sleep on a firm sleep surface (Not a carseat, bouncy seat or swing as your baby’s normal sleep spot.)
- No crib bumpers, toys, soft objects, or sleep positioning products (even if they claim to reduce the risk of SIDS) in the baby’s sleep space
- Breastfeed the baby
- Room sharing with the baby
- Have regular prenatal care during pregnancy
- Mothers who refrain from smoking, drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs during pregnancy and after the baby is born
- Do not allow second hand smoke around the baby or have caregivers or family members who smoke around the baby
- Once breastfeeding and milk supply is firmly established and baby is gaining weight appropriately, offer a pacifier (not on a string) when baby goes down for their last sleep.
- Do not overdress the baby for bed or overheat the room
- Maintain all the healthy baby checkups and vaccines as recommended by the baby’s health care provider
- Do not use home breathing monitors or heart monitors that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS.
No one wants to think that the unthinkable might happen. But understanding accurate facts about the risks and how to reduce those risks is an important part of preparing for parenthood. For more information on SIDS, check out the following resources:
- Safe to Sleep®
- SIDS Awareness Month
Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA) BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE has been an active childbirth professional since 2004, teaching Lamaze classes and providing doula services to hundreds of couples through her private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is an instructor at the Simkin Center, Bastyr University where she is a birth doula trainer. Sharon is also a trainer with Passion for Birth, a Lamaze-Accredited Childbirth Educator Program. Sharon is a co-leader of the International Cesarean Awareness Network’s (ICAN) Seattle Chapter, and a former board member of PALS Doulas and Past President of REACHE. In September 2011, Sharon was admitted as a Fellow to the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators. Sharon enjoys active online engagement and facilitating discussion around best practice, current research and its practical application to community standards and actions by health care providers, and how that affects families in the childbearing year. Sharon has been a speaker at international conferences on topics of interest to birth professionals and enjoys collaborating with others to share ideas and information that benefit birth professionals and families. To learn more about Sharon, you are invited to visit her website, SharonMuza.com.