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August 2, 2010

Eight Ways to Minimize the Risk of SIDS

Having just celebrated the first birthday of my youngest daughter on Saturday, I am reminded of the one year risk window for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).  Every parents worst fear – SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a child under the age of one.  Most common in winter months and in babies under six-months of age, SIDS occurs most frequently in babies 2-to-4 months of age.

While the nature of the syndrome is not fully understood, there have been a few key scientific breakthroughs since the early 90s that provide us with guidelines to minimize risk.

1. back to sleep: Always place your infant or child to sleep on their back for night sleep and naps. The Back to Sleep Campaign launched in 1994 has yielded a 50% reduction in the incidence of SIDS.

2. use a ceiling fan: In the fall of 2008 a study came out that shows a 72% reduction in the risk for SIDS in cases where a ceiling fan was used to circulate air around the room.  The Stale Air Theory suggests that circulating the air helps to dissipate carbon dioxide that may be building in the areas around the baby.

3. do not smoke: This is key.  Mothers should not smoking during pregnancy. Fetal exposure to smoking may contribute to impairment in breathing and heart rate. Parents should also have a no smoking policy in the home where the baby sleeps and lives.

4. avoid overheating: While it is our tendency to want to bundle little babies, it is important to realize that overheating is a leading risk factor for SIDS.  Babies need only one layer more than adults and should sleep in a room that is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. I often suggest to parents that they use a lightweight sleep sack (aka wearable blanket) in lieu of a blanket to keep a baby cozy and comfortable, but not too warm.

5. breastfeed if possible: A German study has found that babies who are breastfed for at least six months are at a lower risk than those who are formula fed.

6. use a pacifier: The British Medical Journal published a study in 2005 concluding, “Use of a dummy/pacifier seems to reduce the risk of SIDS and possibly reduces the influence of known risk factors in the sleep environment.”

7. keep the crib bare: Babies’ cribs/bassinets/co-sleepers should be free of toys, stuffed animals and blankets as these things pose a danger for suffocation and SIDS.

8. share a room with your baby: It is recommended that mothers and babies share a room (not a bed) during those first months.