October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month. Want to learn more about SIDS? Read on.
First of all, SIDS is the name given to the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby less than 1 year old. SIDS is sometimes called crib death because it usually occurs when babies are asleep in their cribs. SIDS is a silent killer.
About 2,300 babies die of SIDS each year in the US. It is the most common cause of death in babies between the ages of 2 weeks to 1 year. It most often occurs in babies between 2 months and 4 months old. It occurs more often in African-American and Native American babies than in Caucasian babies and is slightly more common in boys than in girls.
SIDS doesn’t have any recognizable symptoms. It happens suddenly and unexpectantly to babies that appear healthy. A diagnosis of SIDS is one of exclusion. The diagnosis is generally made if no clear cause of death can be determined after a thorough investigation that includes an autopsy.
There are certain factors that increase your baby’s risk of dying from SIDS. The most important risk factor is laying your baby down to sleep on his or her stomach or side rather than their back. Other factors that increase your baby’s risk include:
• Having a family history of SIDS
• Being overheated with blankets or a high room temperature
• Co-sleeping (sharing a bed with a parent or caretaker)
• Having a mattress that’s too soft and having soft objects in the crib, such as stuffed toys, bumper pads, quilts and pillows
• Being born prematurely or having a low birth weight
• Having a mother younger than 20 years old
• Having a mother who received inadequate or no prenatal care
• Having a mother who smoked, drank alcohol or took drugs during pregnancy
• Being exposed to secondhand smoke
The cause of SIDS is unknown but researchers are studying certain theories. Many researchers believe that SIDS is related to your baby’s inability to arouse from sleep when not getting sufficient oxygen from breathing. As a result, carbon dioxide builds up in the baby’s bloodstream. A high level of carbon dioxide can lead to death. Some researchers believe this occurs because the center in your baby’s brain that controls arousal is not fully developed.
The proposed “Triple-Risk Model” suggests that three factors combine to cause SIDS. This theory holds that SIDS occurs when an underlying brain abnormality and a triggering event, such as a poor sleep position (sleeping on the stomach), occur during a vulnerable stage in your baby’s development, essentially the first six months of his or her life.
It may be frightening to know that there’re no symptoms to be alert for and no clear cause of SIDS, so there’s no way to prevent it from happening to your baby. But there are some tips for reducing your baby’s risk for SIDS. These include:
- Lay your baby on his or her back when putting him or her down for a nap and at night.
- Avoid overheating your baby. Don’t tightly swaddle your baby in a blanket and keep the room temperature at a level that’s comfortable for a lightly clothed adult.
- Don’t co-sleep with your baby or let your baby sleep with other children or adults.
- Choose a firm, safety-approved mattress for your baby’s crib and place a fitted sheet over it.
- Keep toys, bumper pads, fluffy blankets, quilts and pillows out of your baby’s crib when he or she is sleeping.
- Don’t smoke, drink or take drugs while you are pregnant and if you are breastfeeding.
- Get proper prenatal care during pregnancy.
- Don’t let anyone smoke around your baby.
- Set up your baby’s sleep area close to you but separate from your bedroom or those of your baby’s siblings.
In addition, make sure everyone who cares for your baby – including grandparents and other relatives, babysitters and friends – knows these recommendations. And consider sharing these tips with other parents and caregivers of young babies during Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month and all year long.