Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among babies from 1 month to 1 year of age in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017 alone, there were 3,600 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs) in the United States. Of these deaths, 1,400 were attributed to SIDS. Of the remaining 2200, 900 were attributed to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed and 1,300 to an unknown cause.
SIDS is defined as the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than 1 year old. Most, but certainly not all, cases happen when babies are between 1 and 4 months of age. There is no known cause for SIDS.
Despite not knowing the cause of SIDS, the SUID and SIDS rates began to make a strong decline in the 1990s. In 1990, the SIDS rate in the US was 130.3 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2017, the number decreased to 35.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is a huge number of babies’ lives that were spared! This decrease in deaths was associated with the introduction of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) safe sleep recommendations, as well as the initiation of the Back to Sleep (now known as Safe to Sleep) campaign.
Here are some of the AAP’s infant sleep recommendations for babies from birth to 1 year old to decrease the risk of SIDS:
- Newborns should be placed in skin-to-skin contact with their mother as soon after birth as possible, and for at least the first hour.
- Babies should sleep on their back for all sleep, both during naps and nighttime.
- Some babies will roll onto their stomachs when developmentally able. Always place them to sleep on their back, but if the baby is comfortable rolling both ways (onto stomach and onto back), then you do not need to return the baby to their back after they have rolled over.
- If a baby falls asleep in a car seat, stroller, swing, infant carrier, or sling, they should be moved to a firm sleep surface on their back as soon as possible.
- Swaddling a baby with a light blanket is acceptable but should be stopped once the baby looks like they are trying to roll over.
- Babies should sleep on a firm, flat sleep surface.
- The mattress should not indent when the baby is placed on it.
- It should be covered with a tight-fitting mattress pad and crib sheet.
- There should be nothing else in the crib except the baby- no pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals.
- Never place your baby to sleep on a couch, sofa or armchair as this is extremely dangerous!
- Use a crib that meets current safety standards. It shouldn’t be broken, have missing parts, or have drop side rails. Make sure your crib is safe by checking the Consumer Product Safety Commission Website.
- Don’t let the baby get too hot.
- The room where baby sleeps should be kept a comfortable temperature.
- Dress the baby in no more than 1 extra layer of what you would wear.
- If you’re worried your baby is cold you can use a wearable blanket, such as a sleeping sack that is the right size for your baby. It should not cover their head.
- Room share with your baby for at least their first 6 months of life, but ideally their whole first year.
- Only bring the baby to your bed to feed or for comfort, then return them to their own bed for sleep.
- Try offering a pacifier at nap and bedtime, as this can reduce the risk of SIDS. Wait to do this until after breastfeeding is well established (usually 2-3 weeks).
- Breastfeed your baby if possible.
- The AAP recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the baby’s first 6 months.
- Continue breastfeeding until at least up to 12 months with the introduction of solid foods.
- Make sure your baby has awake, supervised tummy time every day to facilitate development.
- Mothers should refrain from certain activities that increase the chance of SIDS.
- Don’t smoke during pregnancy or after the baby is born. Also keep the baby away from others who smoke.
- Don’t use alcohol or illicit drugs during pregnancy or after the baby is born.
- Make sure your baby gets to all his/her well-child visits with a pediatrician.
- Get all the recommended vaccinations, as vaccinated babies have a lower risk of SIDS.
The CDC’s website lists some resources for those that have lost a baby. SIDS is devastating, but the more we know about it and its risk factors, the more we can prevent it. Make sure the babies in your life are sleeping safely!