Parents often joke about never sleeping again once they become parents. For pregnant mothers, sleepless nights may begin as soon as the baby begins growing and moving. Newborns also make it difficult for the parents to sleep through the night, whether it’s frequent feedings or colic, and of course, jump to those teenage years! It makes many of us tired just thinking about it.
One reason many new parents lose sleep goes beyond the nightly breast feedings and crying babies in the middle of the night: sudden infant death syndrome, also commonly referred to as SIDS, is a very real fear that claims the lives of about 1,500 babies each year in the United States (based on a 2014 CDC study). The mystery surrounding SIDS is what makes it frightening because even after ongoing research, it can still happen unpredictably. However, the good news is there are ways to reduce the risk of SIDS.
What is SIDS?
SIDS happens suddenly and is characterized as an unexplained death of an infant usually less than one year old. However, the highest risk is between two to four months of age. Most often SIDS occurs while the baby is sleeping. SIDS babies usually show no signs of suffering and are seemingly healthy.
To determine if an infant death was caused by SIDS, all other possible causes need to be ruled out. Usually, the infant’s sleeping environment will be evaluated, their medical history reviewed and an autopsy will help to determine if the cause of death was SIDS. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing which babies are at a higher risk.
Reducing the Risk
Keeping our children safe is our main priority once we become parents, and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ offered safe sleep recommendations in 1992 for babies. Since the beginning of SIDS awareness and a combined “Back to Sleep” Campaign in 1994, SIDS has been on the decline. If you have a child under the age of one, here are some preventative tips that will reduce the risk and hopefully give everyone in your household a restful night’s sleep.
The “Back to Sleep” Campaign launched so that parents would be encouraged to place newborn babies back to sleep in their cribs on their back, as the name implies. The years of research discovered that newborn babies placed on their stomachs or sides increased the risk of SIDS. It’s been hypothesized that stomach sleeping puts pressure on the jaw of a child, narrowing the airway and hindering breathing. Placing children on their backs on a firm mattress is the safer way to sleep.
It’s also important that parents keep the crib clear from stuffed animals, soft blankets, toys or pillows. Something called “rebreathing” has been thought to occur in babies that sleep amongst stuffed toys or a soft pillow by the face, creating a small area by the baby’s mouth that traps exhaled air. Kidshealth.org states that “As the child breathes exhaled air, the oxygen level in the body drops and carbon monoxide increases. Eventually, this lack of oxygen can contribute to SIDS.”
Room temperature is believed to also be an important factor. As your baby sleeps, if the room is kept too warm it’s believed that they will go into a deeper sleep, making it harder for them to wake up if they do experience any difficulty breathing. By keeping their sleeping quarters a bit cool, they will still have a restful sleep but will awake easier. Companies have created “sleeveless” blankets that zip up over the baby, giving them that extra layer of warmth without the worry of a loose blanket in their crib.
Breastfeeding is also encouraged. Researchers think that the nutrients in breast milk may help protect babies from infections that can increase the SIDS risk. It’s also important to take the infant back to their crib or bassinet after nursing or bottle-feeding. Studies have shown an increase of SIDS deaths with parents that co-sleep with their babies. It’s fine to bring the crib or bassinet into the bedroom with you, however; having the baby sleep in the same bed puts him/her at a higher risk. Also, the use of pacifiers has been linked to a lower risk of SIDS.
Dr. Kellow and Dr. Shaw are happy to discuss your concerns and answer any questions that you may have about sudden infant death syndrome. Our number is 618-235-2111 and you can also learn more about our team here. For parents and families that have experienced a SIDS death, there are support groups including SIDS of Illinois, Inc. (http://www.sidsillinois.org/). This organization and others can provide grief counseling and support.