Preventing the Unthinkable: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Preventing the Unthinkable: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
The safest sleeping environment for baby is in your room next to you. Your baby should be sleeping in a crib or bassinet with a fitted bottom sheet, free from stuffed toys, pillow, bumper pads and extra blankets.

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Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as “crib death” because the infants often die in their cribs.

Sadly, SIDS is one of the leading causes of death among infants between one and 12 months of age in the United States, claiming eight babies every day in America. That’s nearly 3,000 precious lives every year. But, according to the National Institutes of Health, even though we don’t know the exact cause of SIDS, we do know that some things can increase a baby’s risk for SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.

VCU Health is committed to educating every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend and childcare worker about the risk factors for SIDS. By following these simple guidelines, you can protect your baby by providing a healthy sleeping environment:

• Place your baby on her back every time you put her down to sleep at nighttime and for every nap.

• Make sure your baby is sleeping on a firm infant mattress with a fitted bottom sheet. The sleeping area should be free from bumper pads, pillows, stuffed toys and extra blankets. Your baby should not sleep in an adult bed, sofa or armchair.

• Keep the room at a comfortable temperature (around 70 to 72 degrees) so your baby can sleep comfortably in a sleeper, rather than covered with a blanket. Make sure your baby doesn’t get too warm.

• For the first six months to one year, have your baby sleep in your room in a crib, bassinet or portable crib. Your baby should be close to your bed, but not in bed with you. It is very tempting — especially for breastfeeding moms — to have baby sleeping right in the bed, ready to feed whenever she is hungry. But as convenient as “bed sharing” may be, it is putting your baby at risk for suffocating in the bedding or being injured when you roll over in your sleep.

• When your baby is about two weeks of age, once breastfeeding is well established, put her to bed with a pacifier at night and for each nap. Doctors aren’t sure how it works, but giving your baby a pacifier while she’s asleep might lower her risk of SIDS by more than half. After your baby is one year old, begin to wean her from the pacifier to avoid future dental problems.

• Do not smoke or allow smoking around your baby. Anyone who does smoke should do so outside, away from the baby. And they should change their clothing and wash their hands thoroughly before touching the baby.

• Avoid drugs, other than those prescribed by your doctor, and alcohol when pregnant and after you deliver your baby. Drugs and alcohol may affect brain chemistry of the baby prenatally, which could contribute to SIDS. After the baby is born, use of drugs and alcohol by the mother or other caregivers can reduce the ability to tune in to any signs that the baby is in distress, and increase the chances of falling asleep while holding or lying with the baby.

• Breastfeeding helps to reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS.

• Be sure that you have regular prenatal care and that your baby has pediatric checkups, including all recommended vaccines.

Since your baby will be spending a lot of time sleeping on her back, it is important to give her “tummy time.” Tummy time will help her improve her motor control, and head, neck and upper body strength. (Tummy time also will prevent your baby from having a flat or bald spot on the back of her head. While this is not dangerous to the baby, it can be distressing to the parents.)

Here are some tips to help you and your baby enjoy tummy time:

• Spread a blanket on a clear area of the floor.

• Place the baby on her tummy with a toy within reach to help her learn to play and interact with her surroundings.

• Supervise your baby at all times while on her tummy. Sit in front of your baby to encourage interaction and bonding.

• Your baby will benefit from two to three tummy time sessions each day for a short period of time – three to five minutes.

Many new parents are tempted to buy a home monitor to protect their baby from SIDS. Evidence has not shown that monitors are effective. In fact, due to the high number of false alarms, monitors may actually increase anxiety rather than provide reassurance.

One final note: There are many “wives tales” about cats and dogs and babies. While there are no known risk factors for SIDS related to animals, simply use common sense when it comes having your baby around any pets.

If we all learn, practice and share the simple guidelines to create a safe sleeping environment for baby, we will all get a good night’s rest.

Source: National Institutes of Health, Public Education Campaign, Safe to Sleep.


Tiffany Kimbrough, MD, medical director medical director of the newborn nursery at Children’s Hospital of Virginia at VCU

This article has been written by Tiffany Kimbrough, MD.  Tiffany is the medical director of the newborn nursery and an assistant professor at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU


Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU
Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) is Central Virginia's only comprehensive, full-service children's hospital. As Virginia's only Level 1 pediatric trauma center, CHoR offers a wide range of children's health services, including pediatric emergency services, primary care, specialty and subspecialty care, burn, trauma, transplant and long-term care. With more than 15 locations across Central Virginia, CHoR provides pediatric inpatient and outpatient services that cover nearly all children's health-related needs.As part of VCU Health, CHoR is committed to ensuring access to care for all children, training future pediatric caregivers and making new discoveries that improve understanding and treatment of childhood diseases.