What is it?
If you’re a new parent, you’ve probably have heard stories about infants who have died suddenly and for no apparent reason. Obviously, this is very concerning and may have you wondering what you can do to prevent this from happening to your child. What things should you do to decrease the chances of happening? What causes it to occur? Are there treatments for it?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is when a seemingly healthy child who is less than a year-old dies unexplainably. Most often, it occurs during sleep between the second and fourth month of life. The cause is unknown, but there are several factors that are thought to make an infant more vulnerable. The factors are divided into two groups: physical and environmental. One of the main physical factors is a brain defect where the portion of the brain that regulates breathing and awakening from sleep hasn’t matured enough to work appropriately. Some other physical factors include low birth weight, being born prematurely, being part of a multiple birth (ex. twins or triplets) or having a recent respiratory infection. There are several environmental factors that can contribute to SIDS. Babies are at higher risk if they sleep on their stomach or side or if they’re sleeping on a soft surface, like a fluffy blanket or soft mattress. If a baby shares a bed with their parents, siblings or pets, they’re at an elevated risk. Also, if a baby becomes overheated, they’re more likely to develop the disorder. Some other factors are being a boy, non-white, having a family history of SIDS and exposure to secondhand smoke. There are maternal risk factors during pregnancy that can increase the risk as well. These include maternal age under 20, use of nicotine, drugs or alcohol while pregnant and inadequate prenatal care.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for SIDS. While resuscitative efforts are usually tried, most of the time, they aren’t successful. The best thing to do is to follow prevention techniques in order to keep your baby safe. If you have any concerns or questions about which techniques are best for you and your baby, you should talk to your child’s doctor.
If you’ve experienced the devasting loss of a child due to SIDS, it’s essential to get emotional support. Often, parents feel guilty in addition to grief. Since the situation involves a death of child, most areas require a mandatory police investigation, which while necessary can be significantly overwhelming in an already difficult circumstance. It’s a good idea to talk to a trusted friend/family member, counselor or clergy. Another option is joining a support group. It’s key to communicate with family and friends your feelings because they most likely want to help in any way that they can, but don’t know how to offer it. Obviously, going through a tragedy like this can place an incredible amount of strain on your relationships with your significant other, so being open with them as much as possible is critical. The most important thing to remember is that it’ll take time to heal, so allow yourself time to grieve.
There are many things that you can do to decrease the chances of your child having SIDS. One of the most significant is to always place your baby on their back when they’re sleeping. You should do this every time they’re asleep for the first year of their life. If your child attends daycare or is being babysat by someone, make sure to insist that your child needs to sleep on their back, no matter what. The other key element is keeping their sleeping area safe by using a firm mattress without fluffy padding, pillows or stuffed animals in the crib. Make sure your baby is warm, but not overheated by using a sleeping sack or clothing that doesn’t require them to need additional covers and definitely don’t cover their head. While your baby shouldn’t sleep in your bed, if they’re sleeping in your room, they’re less likely to have SIDS. You should do this for at least their first six months, preferably for their first year. Breastfed babies are also less likely to suffer from SIDS, so if possible, breastfed for at least six months. Using a pacifier any time your baby is sleeping may reduce the chances. If you’re breastfeeding, wait to offer the pacifier until your child is 3 – 4 weeks old and they’re settled into a nursing routine. Keep in mind that if your baby isn’t interested in the pacifier, don’t force it. Also, if the pacifier falls out of their mouth while they’re sleeping, don’t put it back in. Don’t rely on monitors and devices that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS because most are ineffective or have safety issues. In addition, there is some evidence that indicates immunizations can help prevent SIDS, so try to keep your baby on the recommended vaccination schedule.
SIDS is not something you want to experience. The good news there are plenty of things that you can do to help minimize your baby’s risk. If you have any questions or concerns about SIDS, please speak with your child’s doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the American SIDS Institute at https://www.sids.org/