Known to many as “crib death,” sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a parent’s worst nightmare. SIDS occurs when a seemingly healthy baby under 12 months old dies while sleeping without warning or a discernable cause. This lack of explanation is what makes SIDS so frightening.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were about 1,600 deaths due to SIDS in 2015. While the cause of SIDS is unknown, studies show that it could be related to defects in the portion of the baby’s brain that controls breathing and arousal during sleep. There’s no surefire way to prevent SIDS, but researchers have identified factors that can increase the risk and measures that can help protect a baby.
Physical and Sleeping Condition Factors
While these factors vary from child to child, a combination of physical and sleeping condition factors can make a baby more vulnerable to SIDS.
Respiratory Infection: A number of babies who died of SIDS recently had a cold, which can make it more difficult for them to breathe.
Low birth weight: Being below a normal weight increases the chance that a baby’s brain hasn’t fully developed, so he or she may have less control over breathing processes.
Sleeping on a soft surface: A fluffy blanket could block a baby’s airways.
Sleeping on the side or stomach: Sleeping in these positions might make it more difficult for babies to sleep than if they were placed on their backs.
Demographic and Maternal Risk Factors
Several demographic and maternal factors can increase the risk of SIDS.
Age and sex: Babies between two and four months of age are more susceptible, and boys are slightly more likely to die from the syndrome.
Family history: Risk increases if a sibling or cousin of the baby has died of SIDS.
Secondhand smoke: Being around smoke puts infants at a higher risk.
Maternal risk: A baby is at higher risk if the mother is younger than 20, smokes, and uses drugs or alcohol.
SIDS can’t be prevented but following these tips can help your baby sleep more safely.
Sleep on back: For the first year of life, a baby should be positioned to sleep on his or her back until he or she is able to roll over without help.
Don’t clutter the crib: Use a firm mattress and avoid using fluffy bedding and toys.
Have your baby sleep in your room: It’s best for your baby to sleep in your room in a crib or bassinet for at least the first six months of life; adult beds aren’t safe.
Know CPR and first aid training: While babies who have stopped breathing because of SIDS can’t always be brought back to life with CPR, it is possible to revive them if you notice they aren’t breathing in time and you start CPR.
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