SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is a major concern for any new parent and there are several steps you should take to reduce the chance of SIDS. SIDS is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy infant usually during the evening with no signs of suffering. In spite of extensive research SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants under the age of 1 year old. There is no known explanation for SIDS, although there are many recommendations and theories as to why it may occur. New parents should be aware of all of the risk factors for SIDS and many of them involve regulating the sleep environment of their babies and ensuring that it is as safe as possible.
There is no single risk factor for SIDS but there are several that parents should be aware of. Certain racial groups such as Native Americans have a higher incidence of SIDS, and there is a higher incidence during cold weather. There are no known causes, but SIDS is thought to result from an environmental trigger at a particularly vulnerable age, and most cases occur between the ages of 2 to 4 months. In the United States alone somewhere near 4,000 infants die every year from SIDS, so it is a serious issue for any parent to consider throughout the world. The rate of SIDS has declined over 50% since 1990 in the U.S., likely due to education and awareness of the syndrome. Some of the known risk factors for SIDS are described below, many of which are avoidable.
Stomach sleeping and re breathing are two major SIDS risk factors
Infants should never be placed to sleep on their stomach, even though they may find the position comfortable or preferable. Several studies have found a higher rate of SIDS for infants that were put to sleep on their stomachs. There is no specifically known reason as to why the rates are higher for these babies, but some researchers hypothesize that the position puts pressure on the baby’s jaw which can reduce the airway and cause suffocation. Stomach positions should never be used for napping either; however for soothing and playing under continual supervision a stomach position is fine.
There is also the concern that stomach sleeping causes “rebreathing” or inhaling exhaled air that is depleted of oxygen. Rebreathing is thought to occur when the infant is placed in close proximity to toys or other objects or pillows near the face that can block airways. It is thought that a soft toy can block the mouth and trap air, causing oxygen deprivation. As a result toys should never be placed near a baby’s head in a crib. There are some experts who believe that some babies have a defect in the arcuate nucleus, which is a part of the brain that wakes the baby up when he or she is deprived of oxygen. If there is a defect in this part of the brain the baby would not wake up and cry when oxygen deprived and parents would not be alerted, putting the baby at a greater risk of SIDS.