Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is an extremely rare happening that causes babies to die in their sleep, for no apparent reason and with no warning whatsoever. However, incidences of SIDS have dropped tremendously over the last two decades, thanks to the launch of the Safe to Sleep Campaign in the early 1900s. According to The Australian Bureau of Statistics, incidences of SIDS in Australia have fallen by 85% since 1990, now affecting 1 in 3,000 children, or 130 babies every year.
Be that as it may, parents must continue to practice the safe sleeping and SID prevention guidelines outlined by Red Nose and other government institutions.
SIDS Risk Factors
Nobody really understands the real cause of SIDS, as most babies who die appear perfectly normal. However, paediatric experts believe SIDS is related to an immature arousal centre in the child's brain. Simply put, the baby cannot wake themselves up when they are struggling to breath. Babies who sleep on their stomach are more vulnerable to SIDS because this position increases the chance of inhaling oxygen-depleted air and suffocating.
Other risk factors include;
- Premature, low-birth weight babies.
- Infants who are exposed to cigarette smoke before and after birth.
- Babies of African or Asian descent.
- Boys are 60% more likely to die of SIDS than girls.
SIDS Prevention Guidelines
Although it’s not possible to prevent SIDS completely, recent research shows more ways to reduce the risk. These are the same guidelines that have caused an 85% drop in SIDS deaths since 1994.
1. Always Sleep the Baby on their Back
The risk of SIDS is significantly higher every time a baby sleeps on their tummy/front. This position puts the baby’s face in the mattress, which can smother or suffocate them. While there is nothing wrong with putting your baby on the side, it’s easier for them to roll over and sleep face down from this position.
Unfortunately, many parents are still not getting this concept. The tummy position is a favourite among babies, and it makes them sleep faster and for a longer period, making it a mother's favourite too. However, those same reasons make this sleeping position a danger to your baby.
You should not even put your baby on their tummy for a short day's nap. Babies who are used to sleeping on their back are 18 times more likely to die of SIDS when they sleep on their tummy because they can’t adjust to the change. The best way to train a child to sleep on their back is to do it from day one and do it consistently every time they sleep.
Once the baby can roll over at 5-6 months, their brain is mature enough to alert them to any breathing dangers, so you no longer have to worry.
2. Have a Safe Sleeping Environment
The best place for infant babies to sleep is their own cot, with a safe mattress and bedding. A safe cot should meet the Australian standard AS/NZS 2172:2003, while a safe mattress should be firm, flat, and appropriately sized for the cot. As for the bedding, only put a well-fitted bed sheet over the mattress and nothing else. Things like pillows, loose blankets and teddy bears should be kept away from the baby’s sleeping area because they can suffocate the baby. Use a safe sleeping bag which is well fitted across the neck and chest to stop baby from slipping inside the bag.
The Red Nose also recommends babies to sleep in their parent’s room for the first six months to one year. This allows the parent to hear any changes in breathing in their baby and react fast.
However, sleeping in the same room should not be confused with co-sleeping because the baby should still sleep in their own cot, placed next to the mother's bed. If you decide to co-sleep, then follow the Red Nose Tips for safer co-sleeping to reduce SIDS risk caused by blankets and pillows in the parent’s bed.
3. Maintain a Comfortable Room Temperature
Speaking of safe sleeping environments, you should ensure the room is cool enough not to overheat the baby but not too cold. Overheating is a major SIDS risk because babies tend to go into a deeper sleep when they are too warm. Ideally, you should set the thermostat to 20-22 ⁰C and dress your child in light clothing unless it's winter.
Still on the dressing, don’t put a hat on your baby’s head or cover their head in any way. Babies regulate their temperature from their head, so it should be cool and free of any covering. If you are worried it might be cold at night, add another layer, mittens and socks, and use a higher TOG rated sleeping bag to keep them warm enough.
4. Breastfeeding and Pacifiers
Breastfeeding your child prevents SIDS because breastfed babies are easily roused from sleep compared to formula-fed babies. Breastfeeding moms are also less likely to smoke or consume alcohol and drugs, reducing the risk of SIDS.
Ideally, you should breastfeed while sitting down and then put the baby back in their cot. However, if you are too tired and you decide to breastfeed while laying down in your bed, put an alarm to wake you up after a few minutes so you can put the baby back in their sleeping area.
Interestingly, babies who sleep with a pacifier are less likely to die from SIDS. It’s not clear why but some doctors claim sucking a pacifier brings the baby’s tongue forward, causing the airway to open. It could also be that babies who use a pacifier don’t sleep as deeply as those who don’t use one.
5. Teach your Childcare Providers the Safe Sleeping Guidelines
According to PEDIATRICS, 1 in 5 SIDS death happen in a day-care centre. Discuss the SIDS prevention and safe sleeping guidelines with everyone who takes care of your baby. Include everything from back sleeping to removing any loose blankets and pillows from their sleeping area.
Although the causes of sudden infant death syndrome are largely a mystery, experts know that the risk peaks between 2 and 4 months. By the age of six months, your baby should be mature enough to turn themselves over and remove anything obstructing their breathing. In the meantime, you and everyone who takes care of the baby should follow the above recommendations to keep your baby safe.
The healthcare information provided in this document is general in nature and not designed to replace personalised professional medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice if you are concerned about your health or the health of someone you know.