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Taking Steps to Lower SIDS Risk

Taking Steps to Lower SIDS Risk

The number of deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) dropped by 40 percent during the 1990s, and experts feel they're close to understanding how problems like brain abnormalities may make certain children vulnerable in certain situations, such as sleeping facedown.

But as long as the cause of SIDS remains unknown "it still claims about 2,700 lives a year" many parents will worry as they put their baby down to sleep. Fortunately, researchers have identified ways that, while they can't guarantee full protection, will reduce a child's risk of SIDS:

  • Put your baby to sleep on her back. "This is vital," says Marian Willinger, Ph.D., special assistant for SIDS at the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland. "We have evidence it definitely cuts the risk." A stomach sleeper is more likely to wiggle facedown into bedding or other items that could cover the mouth and nose and block breathing. (Sleeping on the side is safer than on the stomach, but not as good as the back.) Some parents worry that a back sleeper could choke on spit-up, but that fear appears to be unfounded: Studies have found no increase of choking episodes among babies put to sleep on their backs.

  • Place your baby on a firm mattress. Putting your baby to sleep on a plush surface, such as a waterbed, sheepskin or cushion, risks having her mouth and nose covered by the soft or pliable material.

  • Keep fluffy blankets and quilts, compressible bumper pads, stuffed animals and other soft items out of the sleep area to keep a child's head from being buried or covered.

  • Put out the cigarettes--preferably before pregnancy, because prenatal smoking contributes to SIDS. And don't light up later--though exposure to secondhand smoke after birth plays a lesser role in SIDS, says Willinger, it does raise a child's risk of other illnesses, including asthma and ear infections.

  • Don't overdress your baby or keep her room too warm while she sleeps. An overheated baby may sleep too deeply to arouse herself if she has trouble breathing. A T-shirt and blanket sleeper, in a room that feels comfortable to an adult, should keep a baby warm enough.

  • Remind family members and caregivers that you expect them to follow these protective measures as well--and stand your ground when others second-guess you. One study showed that one reason babies are still placed on heir stomachs is because someone else, such as the baby's grandmother, mistakenly believes that it's the best position.

  • Finally, don't rely on devices, including so-called breathable mattresses, positioning devices and over-the-counter monitors, that suggest they'll prevent SIDS. "These can give a false sense of security, so a parent may be tempted to let a baby sleep on her tummy," says James Kemp, M.D., an as sociate professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine, who's studied some of these new products.


About The Author

Carrie MacGregor has spent the past ten years as a school nurse specializing in children's health and safety issues.

The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.

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