Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – 5 Ways to Minimize The Risk

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occurs when an infant (0-12 months of age) dies unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, usually during sleep.  Over the past few decades, we have learned a great deal about risk factors associated with SIDS, many of which can be modified.  Changing the way we put our babies to sleep has dramatically reduced the number of annual infant deaths from this horrifying and devastating condition.  As we learn more about this horrific problem, communities will continue to implement effective prevention strategies in the hopes that someday the problem will be eliminated completely.  Read on for the latest science-derived evidence-based tips on how you can reduce your baby’s risk of suffering from SIDS.

1. Don’t smoke.  If you are a smoker, avoid smoking during pregnancy and when you are around your baby. Or even better: QUIT!

Many well-designed studies have demonstrated a clear connection between women who smoke during their pregnancy and a higher chance of of their babies dying from SIDS.   After baby is born, second-hand smoke exposure further increases the SIDS risk.  Although reducing the number of cigarettes smoked per day during and after pregnancy can lower this risk, completely quitting has the greatest protective effect for baby.  There are effective programs available to help people quit smoking.  Many family physicians are well equipped to assist and support patients in their efforts to quit.

2. Ensure a safe sleep environment for your baby

Over the past few decades we have learned a fair bit about how a baby’s sleep position and sleep surface can affect his/her risk of SIDS.  Adult beds, couches, armchairs, and waterbeds are considered unsafe because they are more likely to trap and suffocate a sleeping infant.  Studies have also demonstrated that sharing a sleep surface with an adult or another child further increases this risk.  The presence of soft bedding, pillows, duvets, quilts, comforters, and bumper pads in the crib further increase the risk of suffocation.  A safe sleeping environment is a government-approved crib, cradle, or bassinet with a firm surface covered only by a fitted sheet.

3. Avoid overheating your baby

High room temperature, overly warm blankets, and heavy sleepwear can warm a baby excessively.  Overheating is a well-known risk factor for SIDS.  A cold baby will communicate that she is uncomfortable – with shivering, crying, and/or irritability.  A warm baby is less likely to communicate any discomfort.  Therefore, it is safest to err on the side of dressing baby lightly.  A good rule of thumb is to dress baby as heavily or as lightly as you dress yourself: you can always add a layer if baby seems cold.

4. Have your baby sleep in your room

Infants who room-share (baby sleeps in a crib, cradle, or bassinet placed close to parents’/caregiver’s bed) have a lower risk of SIDS.  This protective effect appears to last for at least the first six months of life.  Furthermore, it is thought that room sharing facilitates breast-feeding (see #5 below) and promotes frequent contact between infant and parents through the night.

5. Breastfeed your baby, exclusively.

Breastfeeding is a powerful protector from SIDS.  Whereas babies who are partially breastmilk-fed (i.e. supplemented with formula) derive partial protection from SIDS, exclusively breastfed infants benefit the most – in some studies as much as a 73% reduction in risk.