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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: What Should New Parents Know?

As new parents, we want to protect our children from all forms of danger, whether it’s choking hazards, unstable furniture, or even diaper rash. One common worry for new and old parents alike is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). According to the CDC, 1,250 infant deaths were attributed to SIDS in 2019 alone. Fortunately for parents, there are a number of strategies that can help protect a child from SIDS.

SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than a year old, usually after a baby has been put down to sleep. SIDS is most common between two and four months of age. After four months, the risk of SIDS decreases, as the baby gains the ability to turn on one side and eventually roll over both ways. Sudden infant death after six to seven months is referred to as sudden unexpected death syndrome (SUDS) and most attributed to an unsafe sleeping environment such as sharing a bed with a parent, sleeping on a couch, or any area where there is increased suffocation or choking risk.

“I don’t think you would ever find a pediatrician who hasn’t seen at least one or two cases of SIDS. I’ve been a pediatrician for 25 years and I have been involved in at least three cases,” said Carol M. Steiner, MD, FAAP of TPMG James River Pediatrics in Newport News. Fortunately, SIDS is extremely rare today, thanks, in part, to increased awareness, but hasn’t completely disappeared. Multiple strategies were discovered to decrease the risk of SIDS and through the widespread implementation of these strategies, SIDS cases have seen a notable decline.

1) Babies should sleep on their backs

In the past, parents and caregivers put babies on their stomachs, to protect them from coughing or spitting up in the night; however it’s been shown that placing a baby flat on their back is the best way to prevent SIDS. While the cause of SIDS is still unknown, some speculate that it might be a result of an obstructed airway. Placing babies on their backs ensures that nothing with block their nose or mouth in the night. Babies under six months old are called obligate nose breathers, which means they only know how to breathe out of their noses. Because of their limited breathing ability, anything blocking nasal passageways presents a significant threat.

2) Keep babies close, but not in the bed

Babies six months old are the safest sleeping in the same rooms as their parents. By sleeping in close proximity to their child, parents will be able to hear their child’s potential coughing or choking and respond quickly. Although it’s a good idea to sleep in the same room as your young infant, sleeping in the same bed is not recommended. In fact, by removing your child from your own sleeping area, you can decrease your baby’s risk of SIDS by 50 percent, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Sleeping in the same bed as your child presents multiple suffocation and choking hazards. Keep babies close by, but on separate surfaces.

3) Maintain a safe sleep environment

Parents should maintain a safe sleep environment for their children. Cribs should have a firm, flat mattress with a fitted sheet. Keeping the baby’s sleeping area free from clutter is also imperative. Remove blankets, soft bedding, bumpers, pillows, stuffed animals, and other toys from your baby’s sleeping area. Make sure to remove any dangling cords or other hazards close by. Some hanging mobiles can even present a risk to your child. This will minimize your baby’s possibility of blocking their nostrils or mouth during sleep. The AAP also recommends babies be kept from routinely sleeping in car seats, infant carriers, strollers, or slings.

4) Breastfeeding and pacifiers

There are many considerations for parents when it comes to breastfeeding a child. Some studies have shown that those who do breastfeed have a lesser risk of SIDS than those who do not. It is still unclear as to why this might lower the risk. Similarly, pacifiers can also lower your child’s risk of SIDS, perhaps because infants do not go as deep into sleep while sucking on a pacifier.

5) No smoking

Parents should reduce their child’s exposure to smoke and alcohol before and after birth. A child’s risk for SIDS dramatically increases for infants who share a bed with an adult smoker. Take necessary precautions to make sure your child is breathing clean, clear air. Consider using a fan to circulate air in the sleeping area.

“SIDS is definitely on the mind of a lot of young parents. Even though it is rare, there are things that we can do to prevent it,” said Dr. Steiner. By taking the right precautions, parents can protect their children from SIDS. To learn more about how to keep your child safe, visit a TPMG pediatrician today.

Carol Steiner, MD

About Dr. Carol M. Steiner, MD, FAAP

TPMG board certified pediatrician, Carol M. Steiner, MD, FAAP has over 22 years of experience caring for patients from the first days of life to young adulthood. A premature infant herself, Dr. Steiner’s experience with a devoted pediatrician inspired her to enter the medical field. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology and earned her medical degree from Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
TPMG welcomed Dr. Carol Steiner to TPMG James River Pediatrics in 2019.

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