For new parents, there is nothing sweeter than a child fast asleep in their crib, peacefully dreaming the hours away while you catch up on much-needed sleep. But for most parents, a time of sleep can also be a time of worry, as they think about all the things that could go wrong while they sleep. Is the nursery too hot or cold? Are their pajamas too tight? Is there anything nearby that could cause her harm? These questions about safe baby care, and more, plague parents dreams and force many to lose hours of shut-eye, worrying about everything that can go wrong.
Their worry is not completely unfounded. The name SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) implies an unexpected fatality that no one can prepare for, and is the leading cause of death among babies within their first year of life. Although 90% of deaths before the child turns six months, it can happen at any time to any baby, even if they appear healthy.
As with everything, information is power, so it’s important to understand a few basic facts:
– Often called “crib death” due to its occurrence while babies sleep, cribs don’t cause death by themselves, but rather a combination of the baby’s underlying health and the environment that it sleeps in (blankets, toys, etc).
– As of 2013, the average rate is about 0.4%, or 40 for every 100,000 births.
– Although slightly similar, SIDS differs from SUID (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death) in the fact that SUID is a more broad term encompassing all sudden infant deaths.
– Boys are slightly more at risk than boys
– Due to an increase in awareness and other preventative measures, the rate has continued to decrease since 1994 across all ethnic and racial lines.
What are the Risk Factors?
Although doctors don’t know exactly what causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, there are several risk factors that can play into a child’s unexpected passing.
– Defects In the Brain: Physically, there are some instances where an infant’s brain hasn’t developed fully to be able to control breathing and the arousal mechanism once he or she is asleep.
– Low Weight: Some babies that are born pre-mature also carry physical maladies as well, such as brain defects that can wake them in times of crisis, or a reduced heart rate that makes them more susceptible.
– Infection: In some cases, a child that has passed has also recently developed a cold as well, making their lungs weaker and possibly contributing to breathing problems.
– Genetic: Babies that have had a close relative, such as siblings or cousins, that have died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, are at a higher risk than babies who don’t have any related history.
– Smoky House: Secondhand smoke from cigarettes places children at a higher risk than homes of non-smokers.
– Environmental factors: Sleeping on the stomach or even on its side places a baby at a higher risk, as well as sleeping on a soft surface or “co-sleeping” with their parents. The risk is reduced if the child shares a room with their parents, but it goes up dramatically if they also share a bed.
– Heat: A child that overheats in his or her sleep is at a great risk than those in a climate-controlled room.
– Pregnancy Factors: Other risk factors include a mother that is younger than 20, has sub-par prenatal care, or a mom who smokes, drinks, or uses drugs during pregnancy.
What Can I Do to Prevent It?
Although Sudden Infant Death Syndrome can come about unexpectedly, even if the child appears healthy and all the proper precautions are taken, there are still some ways to greatly mitigate the risk and help keep your child safe.
– Place Them On Their Back: At one point, it was not only common practice, but encouraged by pediatricians, to place your babies on their stomachs in order to get them to sleep. This changed with the 1994 Back To Sleep Campaign, which encouraged parents to place children on their backs instead. The anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that babies prefer their stomachs, but sleeping on their back encourages an open airway and allows them to move their heads freely, especially for newborns who haven’t developed strong enough neck muscles. Once a baby can roll over from their front to their back, it’s safe to set them down any way you would like.
– Keep a Safe Temperature: Overheating is one of the leading causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, so it’s important to make sure the room stays at a nice, even temperature.
– Bring Them Into Your Room: While newborns should not sleep in the same bed as their parents, keeping them in the same room with you will allow you to more easily perceive and react if they are in distress.
– Avoid Monitors That You Place on the Child: With the fear of infant death increasing as parents become more aware, many companies have introduced monitors that either strap around their feet or are built into a baby’s clothing to monitor their heart rate. A good newborn care specialist will encourage avoiding these at all costs, as they have not been proven effective, and can even pose more safety issues for your child.
– Keep the Crib Bare: The less a child can grab onto in the middle of the night, the better. This includes, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or anything else typically left to soothe a child. Pacifiers are the exception, and are even encouraged, as they help your child keep their airway open.
Having a child is one of the greatest blessings on this earth, but for a family who has suffered a loss, especially one due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the pain can be unbearable. For that reason, talk to your newborn care specialist about baby care specifically, and what you can do to further reduce the chances of something like this from happening. If this tragic event does happen, they can guide to resources and support groups that will help during this difficult time.