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Understanding Sudden Infant Death

Posted on Oct 15, 2018

Rachel Dawkins, M.D.

October is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) awareness month. SIDS is the leading cause of death in babies 1 month to 1 year old. Rachel Dawkins, M.D., from Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital explains what we know about SIDS and gives parents some tips about this important topic.
So what exactly is SIDS and what causes it?
Sudden infant death syndrome is the sudden, unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year of age that doesn’t have a known cause. There’s also a term called sudden unexpected infant death (SUIDS) that includes babies that die unexpectedly from accidental causes or medical causes like heart or neurologic problems.
Babies are at risk in their first month of life but more commonly at 1 months to 4 months old.
Is SIDS the same as “crib death”?
SIDS is sometimes called "crib death" or "cot death" because it is associated with the timeframe when the baby is sleeping. I often hear parents say they don’t want their baby sleeping in a crib because of “crib death” but this is backward. Cribs themselves don't cause SIDS, but the baby's sleep environment can influence sleep-related causes of death.
Are there ways to prevent SIDS?
There is no way to 100 percent prevent SUIDS, but there are many ways to reduce your child's risk:
  • Place on back to sleep–Always place your baby, day or night on his or her back to sleep.
  • Don’t smoke–Don’t expose your baby to cigarette smoke before or after birth.
  • Don’t bed-share–Never fall asleep with your baby in your bed or in a chair or sofa. Sleeping in the same room is great. Same bed is not.
  • Place in bare crib–The baby should be placed in a crib with no cover, pillows, bumper pads or positioning devices. Make your crib bare, basic and boring.
  • Keep it cool—Keep the temperature in your baby’s bedroom cool.
  • Breastfeeding—Breastmilk seems to have some protective factors for SIDS.
It’s also important that babies get plenty of tummy time while they are awake so they can strengthen their head and neck muscles. Tummy time also helps prevent babies from getting a misshapen or flat head.
Remember the phrase: “Back to sleep; tummy to play.”
I’ve seen some advertisements for products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS like monitors or wedges that go in the bed. Should parents get these?
No. Products like positioners or wedges and monitors have not been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. In fact, some infants have suffocated while using these products. So your pediatrician will always recommend your child sleep on his or her back on a firm, flat surface with no pillows or blankets.
This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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