Should I Be Worried About Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

Baby

As a new parent, you have many things on your mind. Is my baby eating enough? Is my baby too hot or too cold? Is it normal that my baby cries this often?

But perhaps one of the most terrifying topics new parents tend to worry about is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, SIDS is a sudden and silent medical disorder that affects infants who appear healthy. It can occur at any time during a baby’s first year, although it is most common when babies are between 1 month and 4 months old.

To ease your fears about SIDS, we thought we’d clear up a bit of the uncertainty surrounding it and explain some things you can do to reduce your baby’s risk.

What Causes SIDS?

Although there is no definitive cause of SIDS, there has been a lot of research done to determine some factors commonly associated with SIDS cases. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development explains that most scientists believe babies who die of SIDS are born with one or more conditions that cause unusual responses to common internal or external stressors.

Many researchers use the Triple-Risk Model to understand SIDS deaths. This model argues that, for a sudden infant death to occur, all three of the following conditions must be present:

  1. Vulnerable Infant – The baby has an underlying defect or brain abnormality in the part of the brain controlling respiration, heart rate or genetic mutations.
  2. Critical development period – The baby is in a critical development period that is temporarily causing his or her systems to be unstable.
  3. Outside stressor – The baby is exposed to an outside stressor such as stomach sleep position or secondhand tobacco smoke.

There is currently no way to identify babies who have these brain abnormalities, although researchers are trying to develop screening tests. Therefore, the main way that parents can try to protect their baby is by minimizing the outside stressors their baby encounters.

Practicing Sleep Safety

There are a variety of safety measures that are recommended to reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS – many of which are related to sleep safety. Injury Prevention Coordinator at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, Melissa Luxton, RN, explains:

Parents and caregivers can reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths by implementing preventive measures such as placing the baby on his or her back for sleep, using a firm flat sleep surface (such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib) covered by a fitted sheet and keeping soft bedding such as blankets, pillows, bumper pads and soft toys out of the baby’s sleep area.

The following graphic also helps provide a checklist for creating a safe sleep environment for your baby:

BHS0269 Sleep Safety for Baby Instagram Graphic

Additional Ways to Reduce the Risk

Apart from sleep safety, there are a few other recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, some of these include:

  • Avoiding smoking during pregnancy or around your baby
  • Breastfeeding
  • Following physician guidance on your baby’s vaccines
  • Taking your baby to regular health checkups
  • Giving your baby tummy time when he or she is awake and supervised

While SIDS can be a scary topic to discuss, the risk of SIDS is relatively low. The CDC explains that SIDS rates have declined considerably from 120.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in the year 1990 to 38 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016. Hopefully, those rates continue to decrease as more research is completed and more parents and caregivers become informed about ways to reduce the risk.

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