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Important Facts About Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

By Kari Kampakis

For new parents especially, thinking about SIDS is difficult. But to keep our babies safe, we must think about it and take precautions to reduce the likelihood of it occurring.

Defined as “the sudden death of an infant younger than one that remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation,” SIDS is the leading cause of death among babies between 1 month and 1 year of age. The age group at the highest risk are those in the 1 month – 4 month range.

SIDS is a sudden, silent medical disorder that can happen to a seemingly healthy baby. Because it occurs while the baby is asleep, it’s sometimes called “crib death.” Currently, Alabama is #2 in the nation in SIDS deaths, behind Mississippi.

According to Dr. Terri Coco, associate professor of pediatrics for Children’s of Alabama, the best thing a parent can do to prevent SIDS is to provide a safe sleep environment that includes:

  • A firm mattress with the correct fitted sheet that’s snug, not loose;
  • A safety-approved crib;
  • No pillows, stuffed animals, blankets, or crib bumpers (the American Academy of Pediatrics added bumpers to this list last year due to the risk of babies getting caught between the crib slat and bedding);
  • Placing your baby on their BACK to sleep;
  • No smoking in your home;
  • No covering up your baby’s head;
  • Dressing your baby in light clothing (one-piece sleeper);
  • No letting the baby sleep on adult beds, couches, or chairs; and
  • No co-sleeping.

“Co-sleeping is the leading cause of sleep-related deaths,” Dr. Coco says. “Babies need to be in a crib or bassinet.” The risks babies face when sleeping with parents include SIDS, suffocation, and strangulation. Parents may roll onto their child as they’re sleeping, or the baby may get tangled in sheets or blankets.

Dr. Coco adds that both breastfeeding and pacifiers (without strings) help reduce the risk of SIDS. Practicing “tummy time” when the baby’s awake and someone is watching is also important because it builds the baby’s neck strength.

While there are products on the market advertised to prevent SIDS – i.e. cardio-respiratory monitors, wedges, specialized sleep surfaces – none have been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. In some cases, infants have suffocated while using products designed to hold them in position.

Thanks to public awareness and initiatives like Back to Sleep – a campaign launched in 1994 to encourage parents to have their infants sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS – SIDS deaths have since declined more than 50 percent nationally. Back to Sleep is now called Safe to Sleep to build on the success of Back to Sleep and add actions that parents and caregivers can take to reduce the risk of other sleep-related causes of infant death, such as suffocation.

The numbers are declining, but there’s still work to be done. Not until the SIDS toll is zero can anyone rest easy. With October being SIDS Awareness Month, let’s spread the word about preventative measures and encourage new parents everywhere to outfit their homes with the safest sleeping environments possible for their beloved babies.

For more information on SIDS, visit www.nichd.nih.gov/SIDS, www.aap.org, and www.healthychildren.org

Kari Kampakis is a Birmingham mom of four girls and freelance writer. Visit her blog at http://www.karikampakis.com, find her on Facebook  at “Kari Kampakis, writer,” or follow her on Twitter at @karikampakis. Email: kari@karikampakis.com.

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