8 Ways to Reduce the Risk of SIDS

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Using a pacifier while sleeping has been shown to help reduce the risk of SIDS.

October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) awareness month. The number of babies dying from SIDS continues to decline, and a large part of that decline is attributed to better awareness of how to reduce the risks of SIDS.

What is SIDS?
SIDS is defined as the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year of age that remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including autopsy. Although SIDS deaths have decreased by 50 percent over the last 20 years, SIDS remains the leading cause of death for U.S. infants 1 month to 1 year of age

What Causes SIDS?
There are many unknowns about SIDS, but new research shows that some babies who die of SIDS are born with brain abnormalities or other abnormalities that may make them more prone to sudden death.  

Can SIDS be Prevented?
We do not have a 100 percent way to prevent the tragic occurrence of SIDS, but there are steps parents and caregivers can take to help reduce the risks associated with SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.

8 Ways to Reduce the Risk of SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Causes of Infant Death

1. “Back” to Sleep. Put your baby to sleep on his or her back for naps and at night for his or her first year. We know babies who are placed to sleep on their backs are much less likely to die of SIDS than babies who are placed to sleep on their stomachs or sides.

2. Safe Sleep Space. A firm surface, such as a crib, bassinet or play yard, are great options for sleep. Never place your baby to sleep on a couch, sofa or armchair because these soft surfaces can increase the risk of suffocation. It is also important to keep the sleeping space clear of things like toys, stuffed animals, fluffy blankets, pillows and bumper pads to reduce the risk of suffocation and strangulation.

3. Bed for One. Room sharing with your infant is recommended for the first 6-12 months, but bed sharing is not. Sharing a bed with an adult or another child increases your baby’s risk of SIDS, suffocation or strangulation. 

4. Breast-feeding. Studies have shown that breast-feeding can reduce the risk of SIDS. If possible, it is recommended that women exclusively breast-feed for the first 6 months of their baby’s life. If the baby falls asleep while breast-feeding, place the baby on its back in a safe space.

5. No Smoking or Vaping. Babies with mothers who used tobacco during pregnancy are at three times the risk for SIDS, and babies’ exposure to second-hand smoke can double the risk of SIDS. 

6. Dress With Less. To prevent your baby from overheating, dress him or her in lightweight layers. A onesie or T-shirt under a sleep sack or sleeper is enough without a blanket. And skip the hats, hoods and other heavy bundling items for a baby to sleep in.

7. Pacifier. Using a pacifier while sleeping has been shown to help reduce the risk of SIDS. Wait until breast-feeding is established before introducing a pacifier, and don’t force it.

8. Check Ups. Infants should go to all scheduled pediatrician visits and get all vaccinations recommended by his or her pediatrician.

Getting your baby to sleep is challenging, and the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health wants to help make sure your baby is having a safe sleep. For more information about the North Carolina Safe Sleep Project click here. If you have questions or have been affected by SIDS feel free to contact the North Carolina Family Health Resource Line at 800-367-2229 and SIDS Alliance/First Candle Hotline at 800-221-7437.

Sarah Verbiest is the executive director of the University of North Carolina Center for Maternal and Infant Health; director of the Jordan Institute for Families at the UNC School of Social Work; and co-chair of the Perinatal Health Committee, which is part of the Child Fatality Task Force.


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