Practical advice for new parents


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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is defined as the sudden and unexplained death of a child younger than one year old. Over 90 percent of SIDS deaths happen when infants are less than six months old. Because SIDS occurs without any warning or signs, it is particularly worrisome to parents of infants.

However, it is a relatively rare occurrence with approximately 50 deaths per 100,000 births in the United States. Statistics throughout the rest of the world are similar.

There is a great deal of debate over the possible causes of SIDS, and there is still no one proven method for prevention. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that babies who die of SIDS have brain abnormalities that prevent the normal function of breathing, blood pressure, and arousal. Researchers have also been able to identify a number of factors related to the increased probability of SIDS.
  • Prenatal Risks
  • Inadequate prenatal care
  • Exposure to tobacco, heroin, or alcohol
  • Age of the mother (infants born to teenage mothers have a higher risk)
  • Births less than one year apart
  • Postnatal risks
  • Low birth weight or premature birth
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Failure to breastfeed
  • Overheating or excessive clothing or swaddling
  • Excessive bedding
  • Sex (male infants are at a higher risk than females)
  • Laying an infant to sleep on his or her stomach
While SIDS cannot be absolutely prevented, parents can take precautions to reduce risk factors. Placing babies on their backs for sleeping has been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics since 1992, and since then the number of SIDS deaths has dropped considerably. One theory that supports this habit is the idea that babies without adequate head control may inhale their exhaled breath exposing themselves to lethal doses of carbon dioxide. As well, they can potentially smother themselves in excessive bedding or a mattress that is too soft. Other experts believe that babies who sleep on their stomachs sleep more soundly and are more apt to suffer from sleep apnea.

Breastfeeding is considered to be another way to possibly reduce the likelihood of SIDS. Studies have shown that breastfeeding infants have 1/5 the rate of SIDS as those who have a diet of formula. A clean, smoke-free environment is also thought to play a preventative role.

One method to lower the possibility of SIDS that is somewhat controversial is co-sleeping. A study in 2005 demonstrated that the proximity of a parent’s respiration stimulates proper respiratory development in an infant. However, many pediatricians consider co-sleeping to be unsafe because of the risk of smothering by bedding, pillows, or a parent who unknowingly rolls onto the infant. If parents are considering co-sleeping, a firm sleeping surface, clear of excessive bedding is essential. As well, they cannot be impaired by drugs or alcohol. One alternative to co-sleeping is sleeping near the baby. This can mean placing him or her in a bedside bassinet or portable crib in the parents bedroom.

Other ways to minimize the risk of SIDS include:
  • Using a firm crib or bassinet mattress with snug-fitting sheets. All pillows, stuffed animals, fluffy bedding, and bumper pads should be removed.
  • Giving infants pacifiers. A 2005 study indicated that the use of pacifiers reduces SIDS by 90%.
  • Utilizing baby monitors with motion sensors that can allow a quick response if an infant is in distress.

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