Although deaths involving SIDS have declined by about half since the “Back to Sleep/Safe to Sleep” campaigns of the mid 1990s, “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” (or its more-broad category SUID, “Sudden Unexpected Infant Death”) is still connected to approximately 3500 cases each year in the US, according to the CDC. While it would be best if we could completely eliminate SIDS from the face of the earth, there is much that’s happened (and continues to happen) which should reduce the rates as time goes by. Those things include a better understanding of the main causes of SIDS, better mattresses and sleeping equipment tools/products, and a higher awareness on the part of parents, guardians and caretakers.
As of right now, though, the exact reasons for these deaths remain unexplained; but about one quarter are attributed to either suffocation or strangulation because of faulty sleeping arrangements, including bedding products. Knowing this, that ¼ figure represents our best hope for taking a big crunch out of that 3500 figure—after all, it’s easier to resolve a problem when and if you know the actual process involved. It’s this knowledge, for example, that has led to recommendations that crib mattresses not be too soft or fluffy, which may facilitate babies suffocating.
Why Do Some Babies Stop Breathing While Sleeping?
It is suspected that some of these SIDS babies may have had immature arousal centers in a special part of the brain. If this is the case, it would explain why the babies were incapable of rousing themselves naturally while experiencing troubled breathing. It is also suspected that babies that sleep on their stomachs are especially susceptible to SIDS. Apparently, this position increases the chances of such babies re-inhaling oxygen-deprived air. If so, the ages most vulnerable would be between 2 and 4 months old. In spite of this, all babies need to be closely monitored until after they turn 1.
What Babies Are Most At Risk?
The statistics reveal that 3 out of 5 victims of SIDS are boys. Also, Native American and African American babies 2 to 3 times more likely to succumb to the condition. Other especially vulnerable populations include low-birthweight babies, preemies, and children exposed to toxic, potentially brain dulling chemicals (including those produced by tobacco smoke).
But the most vulnerable group of all may be, as has been stated, babies sleeping on their stomachs. Fortunately, the most obvious solution is to make sure your babies sleep mostly on their backs, especially when not closely being watched/supervised. A baby sleeping on his/her back has better access to breathable fresh aid and isn’t as likely to experience over-heating—yet another thing suspected of triggering SIDS. The bad news is that some people aren’t heeding the advice, partly because they know that babies often sleep more easily and for longer periods of time while they’re on their stomachs. The consensus among the experts, though, is that it’s preferable to have your babies sleep on their backs.
10 Ways To Reduce The Risks Of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
In addition to making sure your baby sleeps on his or her back, especially when not directly supervised or monitored, you should seriously consider the following 10 tips or recommendations:
1. If possible avoid even short naps and snoozes on babies’ stomachs. Some studies have revealed that a baby faces an 18 times greater chance of dying from SIDS if made to take even short naps on their stomachs. Apparently, some children may experience difficulty in adjusting to the changes.
2. Avoid making babies sleep on their sides as well. Some researchers say that babies sleeping on their sides (as opposed to on their backs) are twice as likely to die from SIDS, if they turn out to be susceptible to the condition. For one thing, the experts say, it is much easier for a baby to turn him/herself back unto her stomach from a side-sleeping position, thus making such a position more dangerous. After rolling into such a position, the baby may then not have the strength or skills to roll back into the safer on-their-back position.
3. Don’t let your desire to not have your baby succumb to flattened head syndrome or plagiocephaly (the flattening of the soft skull by babies that are placed for too long in the same head-leaning-back position) compel you to not put your baby on his/her back when asleep. First of all, this condition isn’t caused just by a baby always sleeping on his/her back. It may be that the baby spends too much time on his/her back while being awake. Obviously, that problem is easily fixed. Simply change the baby’s position while he/she is awake and supervised. Placing them on their stomach periodically under such circumstances should give the skull time to regain its shape with this new “variety of positions.” Another thing you can do to prevent this mishap is change the baby’s position of his/her head, alternating from facing to the left to facing to the right each night. Yet another solution is to not let your child sit too often or for too long on infant swings, bouncy seats and car seats.
4. Avoid smothering babies with blankets, sheets, pillows, stuffed toys, and comforters. All these things may cushion her surroundings but they can also interfere with a child’s breathing capacity; for that matter, extra soft, improperly firm, fluffy or badly fitting (in the crib) mattresses also pose a significant danger. In order to keep your child from getting cold, make sure the temperature in the room is adequate (not too cool) and, instead of trapping your baby in a loose blanket, use a sleep sack or a receiving blanket, which are tighter and unlikely to smother a baby. Don’t, however, make your babies overheat—according to experts overheating greatly increases the dangers of SIDS. In fact, read the next suggestion!
5. Strive to keep your baby comfortably cool. Inability to breathe properly—actually, suffocation, to be more exact—is the biggest risk with SIDS. The next one is temperature. A nursery kept too warm greatly increases the risk of SIDS. Make sure the temperature in the room stays around 68 degrees and, whatever you do, don’t put the crib too near a radiator or heating unit. Also, dress the baby in light layers of clothing that are easily removable, if necessary.
6. Constantly monitor or supervise a baby and toddler. If you can’t be in the room all the time, then buy a camera and monitor system so that you can keep an eye on the baby from another room. If you hire people to watch your baby, make sure that they understand that you expect them to not leave the child for too long—actually, not at all would be preferable. If you can see that the child isn’t breathing properly, you can always do something about it—call 911 or give CPR—but you can’t do anything if you aren’t there to take care of the problem
7. Get the right type of crib for your child. Although no one can say that the best crib mattress in the world will absolutely prevent SIDS, having the wrong kind can definitely make SIDS more likely. For that reason, buy a mattress with the right amount of support and firmness. It doesn’t have to be particularly comfortable—comfort is more important for a toddler. A baby needs a surface that will make suffocation unlikely. To that end, don’t get a foam mattress that is too weak or flimsy; the same goes for a coil mattress.
8. Be careful with what your child is wearing when you put them to bed. Clothing that is too loose (possibly leading to suffocation) is a no-no, as is clothing that will make the child overheat.
9. Be especially careful concerning your child’s diet and the medications that you give them, including OTC medicines. Actually, don’t ever give a child anything that hasn’t been approved or prescribed by a physician. Remember that some foods may make your child weak, lethargic and even drowsy—the same, of course, goes for all medications (even the prescribed kinds—which is why you always watch children closely after every dose you give them). A lethargic or weak child may lack the strength to snap out of a SIDS-related event, such as trouble breathing.
10. Make sure that your child is up to date on all his/her checkups, vaccines and medical treatments. A child that is sickly is more likely to succumb to the dangers ascribed to SIDS.
The bad news is that SIDS is still around, posing a danger to every child on the planet. The good news, however, is that there are many things that you can do to reduce the risk of SIDS within your household. Someday maybe SIDS will be completely wiped out form the face of the earth—for now, however, the best that we can do is reduce the risks and make sure that our children are protected from as many dangers as we can resolve—even if only one child at a time.