October is SIDS Awareness Month and Safe Infant Sleep Awareness Month. The two occur together because research has identified a strong link between how a baby sleeps and the likelihood of dying from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and SUID (sudden unexpected infant death, which includes SIDS and other unexpected causes of infant death, like suffocation).
Research is still being conducted to determine the exact cause(s) of SIDS, which is still unknown. What we do know is that placing baby on their back to sleep can significantly reduce the incidence of SIDS. It's normal for new parents to worry about infant death. One way to ease some of that parental anxiety is to make sure you follow research-based guidelines for safe sleep and reducing SIDS. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has created the following things parents can do to reduce their risk.
"Back to sleep for every sleep."
This means naps and nighttime sleep. This means every time you lay baby down. This does not mean you have to reposition your baby if they roll over onto their stomach on their own. Also, it is a myth that babies who sleep on their backs are more likely to choke. Learn more.
"Use a firm sleep surface."
This means using a firm sleep surface with no additional bedding (other than a fitted sheet) or soft items (yes, that means no crib bumper!). This also means that you should not let baby sleep on a couch, waterbed, memory foam mattress, pillow, blanket/quilt, or sheepskin. Baby should sleep only on products intended for sleep, which means that car seats, strollers, swings, etc. should not be used for napping or routine sleeping. Learn more.
"Breastfeeding is recommended."
While it's unclear why, babies who are breastfed are at a lower risk for SIDS. If possible, breastfeed your baby. If you bring baby into bed during breastfeeding, place your baby back in their safe sleep bed afterward. If you fall asleep while feeding your baby, it is much safer to do so while in an adult bed than in an armchair on on a couch. Learn more.
"It is recommended that infants sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, ideally for the first year of life, but at least for the first 6 months."
Being in the same room with your baby reduces the risk of SIDS as long as baby sleeps on a separate, sleep-safe surface. There is no evidence that any device on the market makes it safer for your baby to share your bed. Learn more.
"Keep soft objects and loose bedding away from the infant’s sleep area to reduce the risk of SIDS, suffocation, entrapment, and strangulation."
When you put your baby down (on their back) to sleep, your baby should be the only thing you see besides the firm surface and a fitted sheet. No pillows, toys, blankets, crib bumper -- nothing. To keep baby warm, use a wearable blanket designed for infants. Learn more.
"Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime."
Researchers have found a link between lower SIDS rates and pacifier use. If you're breastfeeding, wait until breastfeeding is fully established before introducing a pacifier. Learn more.
"Avoid smoke exposure during pregnancy and after birth."
Exposure to smoke is a major risk factor for SIDS. The best option is to quit smoking before or asap during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about quitting programs. Exposure to secondhand smoke from other family members is also dangerous. Learn more.
"Avoid alcohol and illicit drug use during pregnancy and after birth."
This is especially dangerous for SIDS when a parent uses alcohol or illicit drugs and practices bed sharing. Learn more.
"Avoid overheating and head covering in infants."
Look for signs of baby getting too hot, including sweating and baby's chest feeling hot to the touch. Learn more.
"Pregnant women should obtain regular prenatal care."
Regular prenatal care is associated with lower SIDS risk. Learn more.
"Infants should be immunized in accordance with recommendations of the AAP and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
Immunizations have been shown to have a protective affect for babies against SIDS. Learn more.
"Avoid the use of commercial devices that are inconsistent with safe sleep recommendations."
There is nothing on the market that has been proven to reduce SIDS or make sleep safer for babies. Your baby's registry items for bedtime should only include: firm mattress/sleeping area, fitted sheet, wearable blanket. Learn more.
"Do not use home cardiorespiratory monitors as a strategy to reduce the risk of SIDS."
These devices have not been proven to reduce the incidence of SIDS, and in fact, may create a false sense of security, which can be dangerous. Learn more.
"Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended to facilitate development and to minimize development of positional plagiocephaly."
Some parents worry about a flat head cause by putting baby to sleep on their back. This can be reduced by regular, supervised tummy time. Learn more.
"There is no evidence to recommend swaddling as a strategy to reduce the risk of SIDS."
Swaddling is fine as long as baby is placed down to sleep in a swaddle on their back. Learn more.
How will you ensure that your baby has the safest sleep possible? Do all of your baby's caregivers know these guidelines, too?
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