We are all afraid of the same thing: walking into our baby’s room to find her cold and lifeless.
It’s the story of our nightmares, and many of us know someone who has lived it.
So what causes this nightmare to become a reality for some mothers, and how can you prevent it in your own life?
While the exact cause is unclear, researchers have discovered several factors that increase a baby’s risk for SIDS, as well as ways to reduce the chances.
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Risk factors and Causes of SIDS
This one is probably the most nerve wracking.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep is underdeveloped or immature in some infants.
This means that if they fall into a deep sleep, they may stop breathing and never wake up.
The problem is that there is no way to screen for this, so the only way to find out is when it’s too late.
Babies who were born prematurely are at especially high risk for SIDS because their brain is still underdeveloped.
Thankfully, the risk goes down as their brain development catches up.
Many infants who die from SIDS have recently had a cold or other respiratory infection.
Sleeping on their stomach or side
Because infants have limited control over their head and neck, sleeping on their side or stomach puts them at a high risk for suffocation.
Babies should always sleep on their back to keep their airway open.
Sleeping on a soft surface
This again increases their risk for suffocation.
It is easy for your baby to accidentally roll or turn their head, and be unable to move their face to get more air.
While there are many new advocates for co-sleeping, such as Dr. Sears, the American Academy of Pediatrics still warns against it.
Risks of co-sleeping include rolling over the baby and accidental asphyxiation.
Chances increase greatly if one parent is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
If you are unable to stay awake for night feedings, I recommend a co-sleeper such as this one to keep baby near, but still give them a separate surface.
This co-sleeper folds down on one side so that you can slide baby in, and flips up again if you need more physical separation.
Overheating is another significant risk factor for SIDS. Babies should always sleep in a cool room between 68-72 degrees F, or 20-22.2 degrees C.
Secondhand smoke increases your baby’s risk of respiratory infection or illness, which in turn increases their risk of SIDS.
You should never smoke near your baby.
Male infants are at a slightly higher risk of SIDS, but only slightly.
Non-caucasian babies are at a higher risk for SIDS.
Again, researchers do not understand why.
I’ve been hesitant to include this, because I don’t want to get into the debate.
However, several of the vaccine inserts given to infants at ages 2, 4, and 6 months specifically list SIDS as an adverse side effect.
Maternal risk factors
There are several maternal factors that increase a baby’s risk of SIDS.
Factors include smoking, being under the age of 20, using drugs or alcohol during or after pregnancy, and not receiving proper prenatal care.
Tips to Prevent SIDS
While there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of SIDS, there are many steps that parents can take to ensure that their baby is as safe as possible.
Here are 12 tips to keep your baby safe:
1. Always put baby to sleep on their back
This is the biggie. Since the launch of the Back to Sleep, recorded cases of SIDS have dropped 71%.
That being said, there is speculation that the real number is somewhere between 30-40% because of a change in the way that infant deaths are classified.
Either way, it’s significant.
If your baby is able to roll onto her tummy by herself, there is no need to worry. But until then, it is important to always lay your baby on her back.
2. Always Place baby to sleep on a Firm, flat surface
Use a firm mattress with a well-fitted sheet. The use of loose sheets, soft cushions and fluffy blankets pose a suffocation risk to small babies.
3. Share a room, but not a bed
The AAP recommends room sharing with your baby until he is at least 6 months old.
It is speculated that rooming in enables parents to catch bouts of apnea more easily.
Some parents can’t do this because of the finicky sounds that babies make when they sleep.
In my experience, sometimes room sharing is not the best sleeping arrangement for a family.
If room sharing is not for your family, rooming out can be done safely with the use of a an oxygen and heart rate monitor such as the Owlet.
Standard audio and visual monitors can be used as well- or none. People have had their babies room out on and off for centuries.
What it really boils down to is both your comfort level and your baby’s risk level.
If your baby is premature or has a heart defect, and you are unable to sleep in the same room, an oxygen monitor can decrease the risks of SIDS significantly, and help you get more sleep too.
4. Keep crib or bassinet bare
This is pretty straight forward, but always a little disappointing (baby toys are and blankets are so cute).
No crib bumpers, pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals.
5. Don’t use blankets
Opt for warm clothing or a swaddle such as this one. Do not use the blanket-style muslin swaddles when your baby is sleeping.
I know, they are the most adorable thing. But babies can easily squirm out of them, causing the blanket to ride up over their face and suffocate them.
When your baby is able to roll over, stop using the swaddle immediately. They could get stuck face-first on their belly.
6. Breastfeed for as long as possible
Researchers agree that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of SIDS.
At a minimum, it keeps you from falling asleep with the bottle in their mouth.
7. Keep the room cool
To avoid overheating, keep the room temperature between 68-72 degrees F, or 20-22.2 degrees C.
8. Turn on a fan
An overhead fan is the best option for air circulation.
Realistically, most of us aren’t going to install one though.
In that case, a standing fan pointed in the direction of your baby’s crib will be just fine.
9. Give a pacifier
A pacifier? Who knew.
Pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDS by creating a gap between your baby’s nose and their sleeping surface or blankets.
10. Practice tummy time
As soon as your baby is able, get into the habit of practicing tummy time.
This helps to strengthen his back and neck, giving him the ability to move his face if it were to become covered while sleeping.
11. Don’t smoke around the baby
Smoking around babies is pretty taboo nowadays, but it should still be noted.
Secondhand smoke greatly increases a baby’s risk of respiratory infection, which in turn increases the risk of SIDS.
You can protect your baby by giving up smoking, or committing to smoking where they will not be exposed.
12. Research vaccinations
Vaccinations are seen as both a personal and public health matter. With the debate in full rage, I don’t feel that this is the place to get into it.
As noted above, during the time that your baby is most at risk for SIDS, they are scheduled for routine vaccinations that list SIDS as a side effect.
Whichever side of the fence you are on, consider reading the research and listening to concerns from the other side.
If you are unsure where you stand, I would also encourage you to take a look at the European schedule where fewer people are coming forth with experiences and concerns about adverse effects.
13. Use an oxygen monitor
Oxygen monitors such as the Owlet can alert you if your baby’s oxygen level begins to drop too low, or if their heart rate falls out of the normal range.
This is especially helpful if your baby falls into a deep sleep and is unable to rouse himself.
Of course an oxygen monitor should never be used to compensate for placing your baby in unsafe sleep conditions.
As a mom, I know that you would do anything for your baby. You would throw yourself in front of a bus for her if you had to.
While you can’t completely eliminate your baby’s risk of SIDS, there are a hellova lot of things you can do to protect her.
Twenty years ago (and beyond), moms would have killed for the resources and knowledge that we have today.
So act. Put these things into practice.
Live every day knowing that you have done your best to keep your little person safe and happy.
You are a good mom.
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