October is SIDS Awareness Month, a time when there is a push for parents, family members, and other caregivers to become educated about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and how it can be prevented. Through efforts like this, SIDS deaths in the U.S. have declined about 50% over the last 20 years. To continue in that vein of education and prevention, we have gathered some information on possible ways to reduce the risk of SIDS.

SIDS Causes and Risk Factors

SIDS is defined as an unexplained death of an otherwise healthy baby, meaning the exact cause is unknown. There is some evidence that it is related to a defect in the portion of an infant’s brain that regulates breathing and arousal (waking) from sleep.

Factors that may lead to an increased risk of SIDS include:

  • Brain defects
  • Respiratory infection
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Sleeping on the sides or stomach
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Sharing a bed
  • Overheating
  • Sleeping on a soft surface

Babies are most vulnerable to SIDS between the ages of 2 and 4 months. It is not known why, but boys are slightly more likely to die of SIDS than girls. Also unexplained is the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that non-white babies have higher rates of SIDS. Additionally, if the baby has siblings or cousins that have died of SIDS, they are also at a higher risk.

Reduce the Risk of SIDS during Pregnancy

To decrease your baby’s risk of SIDS, you can start taking steps while you are pregnant.

  • Do not smoke, do drugs, or drink alcohol when pregnant. Check with your doctor about the safety of any prescriptions you are currently taking.
  • Stay away from smokers and places where there is frequent smoking.
  • Get appropriate prenatal care. Take good care of yourself with proper nutrition, exercise, and rest. See your doctor at the recommended intervals and if you have concerns about something.
  • Avoid pregnancy during the teen years. If you have already had a child as a teen, wait until adulthood before having another. Secondborn children to teen mothers are at an even greater risk.

Reduce the Risk of SIDS After the Baby is Born

After the baby is born, there are many things that can lower their risk of dying of SIDS. Most of these are related to creating a safe sleeping environment and ensuring the baby’s breathing is not obstructed.

  1. Place the baby on down on his or her back to sleep both at night or for naps. If your baby rolls onto their side or stomach after you put them down, you can leave them if they can already roll from back to tummy and tummy to back on their own.
  2. Use a bare crib with a firm mattress. A tightly fitted sheet or mattress cover is the only bedding you should allow. Do not use top sheets, blankets, or bumpers.
  3. Do not allow the baby to nap on softer surfaces like a waterbed, couch, pillow, or blanket.
  4. Keep the crib or bassinet in the parents’ room for the first 6 months, or until the baby can easily roll from both sides.
  5. While room-sharing is recommended, bed-sharing is not. Don’t co-sleep with babies less than a year old. This includes other children or pets sleeping in the same bed or crib with the baby. For more information about the dangers of co-sleep, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics guide for reducing the risk of SIDS and suffocation.
  6. Have daily interactive tummy time. Place your baby on his or her tummy during supervised periods. This will help with their ability to learn to push up and rollover. Do this on a firm surface as well, and do not leave the baby unattended.
  7. Breastfeed your baby. Research has found that babies who are breastfed for at least 6 months have a decreased risk of SIDS. This is not possible for all mothers and babies, so just do it as long as you can.
  8. Keep the baby away from smoking. Do not let the baby spend time around smokers or in places where there are people smoking. If you or someone in your home smokes, quitting is definitely recommended. At the very least, keep your home and any vehicles the baby will spend time in smoke-free.
  9. Go to all scheduled check-ups and well visits. Get the necessary immunizations and relay any concerns about your baby’s health or behavior to the pediatrician.
  10. Stay up to date on vaccines. Keeping to the recommended vaccination schedule does NOT increase the risk of SIDS as some claim. In fact, there is evidence that immunizations may protect against SIDS.

Talk to a Pediatrician

At Carithers Pediatric Group, we provide comprehensive care for infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. If you are the parent of a newborn or infant, we can help answer any questions you have about their health. This includes providing counseling on ways to reduce the risk of SIDS. To make an appointment call our Riverside office at (904) 387-6200 or our Southside office at (904) 997-0023.