Sudden infant death syndrome usually happens during sleep. The condition is also known as baby SIDS. The death happens unexpectedly, and usually, the baby is less than a year old and seems to be perfectly healthy. Since the infants usually die in their cribs, SIDS is also known as crib death.
The main cause remains unknown to this day. However, experts suggest that the cause of death could be improper functions in the brain of an infant that controls arousal from sleep and breathing.
Prevention and Knowing Who is at Risk
The number one reason why sudden infant death syndrome is so frightening is the lack of answers. This unfortunate condition is still the most common cause of death among young babies (1 month – 1 year of age). Also, baby SIDS is still unpredictable even after all the research and years spent to understand the main causes.
However, the researchers suggest there are a couple of actions parents should take to reduce the risks of SIDS. The number one rule to follow is to always put your infant (younger than 1 year old) to sleep on its back. It is very unsafe for babies to sleep sideways or on their stomachs. The only thing we know so far is that babies who sleep on their stomachs are much more prone to SIDS.
There is not a single thing that could show us which babies are at most risk to die from SIDS. Instead, there are a few factors that might increase the risk of SIDS. When you combine these risk factors you get a higher chance of baby SIDS.
Usually, sudden infant death syndrome happens in infants that are 2-4 months old. The number of cases is larger during the winter. Caucasian infants are less likely to die from SIDS than Native American and Black infants. Also, there are fewer cases of girls being victims of SIDS than boys.
There are a few other risks:
- Low birth weight or prematurity
- Poor parental care
- Family history of SIDS
- Mothers younger than 20
- Drinking, drug use, or smoking during pregnancy
- Being around tobacco smoke after birth
Doctors usually check for the symptoms first and then make a diagnosis for most health problems. However, sudden infant death syndrome diagnose is considered only after all the other possible death causes have been ruled out. By doing this, doctors can differentiate SIDS from accident deaths such as abuse, accidents, and other undiagnosed conditions.
Sleeping on Stomach is Dangerous
Babies who sleep on their stomachs are much more likely to die from SIDS than those who sleep on their backs. Also, sleeping sideways shouldn’t be an option for infants, because a baby can roll onto the belly from the side position very easy during sleep.
Some experts believe that sleeping on a stomach may hurt breathing because the airway gets blocked. Also, sleeping on a stomach might cause “rebreathing”. This is a condition when a baby exhales its air and inhales it again. This is much more likely to happen if a child sleeps on a soft mattress, with a pillow near the face, with stuffed toys, or with bedding. A baby that experiences rebreathing will have a higher level of carbon dioxide and lower levels of oxygen in the body.
It is also believed that babies who die from sudden infant death syndrome usually have a brain development problem and their brains have difficulties waking during sleep and breathing. A baby that does not get enough oxygen or does not get enough air will suddenly wake up and start crying. This will provide more oxygen to the body. The problem happens if the brain is not able to pick up the warning signal and the oxygen levels just continue to fall constantly.
A lot of parents are worried about positional plagiocephaly, also known as the flat head syndrome. This happens when a baby spends too much time lying on its back – a baby develops a flat spot on the back of its head. This condition has become more common since researchers started associating lying n back with SIDS, but it is treatable easily. All you need to do is to allow your baby to lay on its tummy, but only while it is awake and while you can supervise it.
Another common concern parents have when putting their babies lying on their back is the fear of choking on spit or vomit. However, sleeping on the stomach is recommended only for babies who have uncommon malfunctions of the upper airway. There’s no proof that babies are at higher risk of choking if they are healthy, or even if they suffer from GER (gastroesophageal reflux).
Contact your baby’s pediatrician to make sure that your baby is healthy enough to sleep on its back without taking any risks.
How can Your Baby Sleep Safely?
Since the recommendations on sleeping positions took place, the SIDS rates dropped significantly. However, there are still a lot of cases of kids dying from SIDS. Here are some things you can do to reduce the risk of SIDS:
- Get regular prenatal care
- Never use a sheepskin, waterbed, chair, couch, pillow, firm mattress, or any other soft surface when your baby is sleeping.
- Make sure you’re not using bumper pads in your baby’s crib. They can lead to strangulation or suffocation easily.
- If it is possible, breastfeed. Breastfeeding or giving your child expressed milk has shown good results when it comes to reducing the risk of SIDS.
- Your baby should be in the same room as you, but not in the same bed. Doctors recommend that infants should sleep with parents, but always on a separate surface. For example, a crib or bassinet next to the parent’s bed. This should be done up until your baby is at least 1 year old.
- Make sure your baby is using a pacifier until the first birthday. However, don’t force it if your child rejects the pacifier. Also, don’t replace it if you notice that it falls out when your child is sleeping.
- Your baby shouldn’t get too warm when it is sleeping. Make sure it does not have too many clothes. Your infant needs to be properly dressed for the room temperature.
- You shouldn’t be smoking during pregnancy, or even after birth. The evidence shows that mothers that smoked during pregnancy are more likely to have kids that die of SIDS. Secondhand smoking is also not good for the baby at all.
- Your child should get all the proper immunization vaccines. The evidence shows that babies who are vaccinated on time have 50% less chance to die of SIDS.
Baby Planet Overview
Sudden infant death syndrome is a real condition that shouldn’t be looked down upon. It is the leading cause of death in infants and you should pay special attention to how you are treating your baby, especially when it is sleeping. There are different actions you can take to reduce the chances of SIDS, and you should follow the rules your doctor provides. The most important thing to pay attention to is the position your baby sleeps in.
- The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov