Bringing a new baby home is an exciting time, but it can also be extremely stressful. No one likes to think infant loss can happen to them, but the truth is sudden death syndrome, otherwise known as SIDS, can indeed happen. Because no one is clear on what causes this issue, it can be a major source of stress and worry for new parents. The highest risk for crib death is during the first year of life, with a majority of cases occurring between the ages of two and three months. Once parents are aware of what increases the risk of SIDS and what it is, they can concentrate more on enjoying the first year of life when babies change so much.
What Is SIDS?
Sudden infant death syndrome refers to the sudden death of an infant that has no medical cause. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,000 babies die in this manner each year. This is a frightening number for parents. While some people use this term interchangeably with suffocation deaths, they are actually different. SIDS is an unexplained death where the child is unable to breathe for no reason. However, this doesn’t mean suffocation isn’t a real hazard. Many babies have also suffocated as the result of using fluffy bedding in the crib, co-sleeping incorrectly and stuffed animals in the crib. Investigators often look at these factors before determining a death as caused by SIDS.
What Causes SIDS?
The scariest part of this issue is doctors don’t know exactly what causes babies to die from SIDS. Many studies have been conducted in attempt to gain a better understanding of this unexpected death so a suitable prevention plan can be put in place.
Other Risk Factors
In their studies of which infants are more likely to succumb to crib death, they have determined a list of risk factors that can help parents identify if their child is more likely to experience this problem. Some of these risk factors include:
- Race: American Indian, black and Eskimo children are at higher risk for unknown reasons.
- Family history: Having siblings or cousins who have died of SIDS increases risks.
- Sex: Boys have a higher mortality rate than girls.
Some of these factors puzzle doctors, leaving them to wonder why certain groups are more susceptible than others.
Are There Warning Signs?
The biggest question new parents often have is whether there are warning signs a child may be about to succumb to sudden death syndrome. The unfortunate fact remains there are no warning signs or symptoms that a child may be in danger. In most true cases of SIDS, parents put a perfectly healthy, happy baby to bed and the child fails to wake up. There are typically no signs of the baby struggling and is often found in the exact same position in which the parents laid the infant down for the night.
SIDS Prevention Is Key
While there’s no way to guarantee a child won’t pass away from SIDS, there are many things parents can do to help reduce the SIDS risk for their child. This can help give parents peace of mind they have done everything they can to prevent the issue and give their child the best chance at life. One of the biggest prevention campaigns to exist is the “Back to Sleep” campaign launched in 1992. In this initiative, parents were encouraged to put their babies to sleep on their backs in their own bed to reduce the risk of SIDS. While it was previously thought it was okay to allow a child to sleep on their side as well, this is now also discouraged because it is too easy for infants to roll onto their stomachs in their sleep. Since this campaign was put in place, SIDS deaths have declined.
In addition to putting your baby to sleep on his or her back, there are other steps you can take to further reduce the risk. Some of these steps include:
- Getting proper prenatal care. This is the best way to give your baby the healthiest start in life.
- Avoid drinking and drugs during pregnancy. Because these practices can lead to low birth weight and poor fetal development, the baby can be at an increased risk for crib death as a result.
- Quit smoking. Even after pregnancy, secondhand smoke can have a negative impact on your baby. Stopping smoking can help prevent sudden death syndrome.
- Use a crib or separate sleeping area. Sleeping with your baby in your bed can increase the chances of suffocation or SIDS. If you want to co-sleep, research proper ways to do it, including a bedside crib.
- Use a firm mattress. Some parents think because it’s uncomfortable for them to sleep on a firm mattress, it will be uncomfortable for the baby. However, firm is best for young infants.
- Keep the crib empty, including bumpers. An empty crib is much safer for baby. Don’t use bedding, pillows, stuffed animals or bumpers in the crib. If you feel bumpers are necessary, opt for breathable mesh.
- Use a pacifier. Pacifiers have been found to reduce SIDS risk in babies. Researchers think the sucking action keeps the baby’s brain active.
- Breastfeed. Breastfeeding has been proven to provide a large number of nutritional benefits, including reducing the risk of SIDS. Giving breast milk is preferred when possible.
- Exercise tummy-time during the day. It’s good for infants to spend time on their tummies to exercise different muscle groups. Doing so during the day can help the baby develop properly.
- Avoid dressing too warmly. Because you shouldn’t use blankets in the crib, many parents boost the temperature in the room or add too many layers. A higher body temperature has been connected to an increased rate of crib death.
- Consider a special monitor. There are now monitors available that slide under the crib sheet and alert parents if the child isn’t breathing or moving. This can help give you peace of mind, but keep in mind there are often false alarms with these devices, which may not be worth the stress.
- Talk to your pediatrician about breathing issues. If you notice your child has trouble breathing, goes limp or turns blue, seek medical attention. There could be a serious issue at play that could increase the risk of sudden death syndrome.
- Discuss these points with caregivers. If you can’t be with your baby at all times, it’s important that all other caregivers follow these guidelines. Some cases of SIDS occur during the care of someone else who isn’t aware of the guidelines and unknowingly increases the baby’s risk.
While there is no way to eliminate the risk altogether, reducing them as much as possible can help you rest at ease and enjoy your time with your baby.
What Should You Do If SIDS Happens?
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to wake up to find their baby isn’t breathing. The shock can often leave you unsure of what to do next. If you ever wake to find your baby unresponsive, call the emergency services right away. If the case is a true case of SIDS, it’s unlikely any intervention will help, but if the cause is something else, you will know help is on the way. Afterwards, be sure to reach out for help from family and friends. Lean on your partner for support and try not to push each other away. Losing a child can be a stressful time, but it doesn’t have to mean you lose everything else that’s important to you. You may also be able to find a SIDS support group near you.
The idea of losing a child you recently gave birth to is often too much for parents to bear. While it’s easy to brush it off with a simple “it won’t happen to me”, it’s best to educate yourself and do whatever you can to prevent it. With the decline in SIDS deaths, it seems we’re doing something right. With more research to come, there may come a day when we know what causes crib death and how we can prevent it.