What is SIDS and how can I reduce the risk?

Summary: Discover what SIDS is and what you can do to reduce the risks of it in your home.

SIDS is the acronym used for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. True SIDS is believed to be most commonly caused by a portion of the brain responsible for autonomic bodily functions (like breathing) which, in some babies, is underdeveloped at birth according to the Mayo Clinic. In other words, SIDS is the sudden cessation of breathing in an infant, which usually happens in their sleep, for no apparent reason.

How can SIDS be Prevented?

If a baby’s brain is underdeveloped, which is most common in premature or multiple births where birthweights are lower, there isn’t too much you can physically do to prevent SIDS. That being said, there are some great products on the market designed to alert you if your baby stops breathing while asleep. If you know your baby’s breathing has stopped, or is anything other than normal, your immediate actions (such as rousing the baby, or infant CPR) could prevent SIDS. Since most parents don’t know that their baby has stopped breathing in SIDS cases, the opportunity to attempt revival is lost.

Asphyxiation Classified as SIDS

Usually when infants die in their sleep medical professionals are inclined to rule it as a case of SIDS when oxygen deprivation is apparent. It is important to note here, though, that oxygen deprivation due to an underdeveloped brain and oxygen deprivation due to environmental factors are completely different things. 

Environmental Factors

Other than a tightly fitted crib or bassinet sheet, there should be nothing else in an infant’s sleep area. Stuffed animals, loose blankets, pillows, etc., can all find their way to a baby’s face and cut off airflow. Since babies do not develop the ability to turn their heads at will until between 2-4 months of age, anything that gets near their face cannot be voluntarily avoided. 

Soft mattresses are also a threat to an infant’s safety. Newborns need to lay flat on their backs on a firm mattress to support their posture, airways and lungs. When the lungs fill with air, the chest expands outward. A soft mattress makes it difficult for a baby’s chest to expand fully because they don’t have the support they need at their back to achieve full outward expansion. This same principle applies to laying an infant on their stomach. If on their stomach, the baby now must lift their own body weight to expand their lungs, because their chest is attempting to expand against the restricting surface of the mattress.

Good Habits Save the Day

There are a couple of things you can do to prevent SIDS caused by environmental factors. Swaddling is comforting for newborns while also preventing their hands (which they can’t control) from grabbing anything and pulling it over their face. If your baby seems averse to swaddling, opt for a sleep sack, which zips, buttons, or Velcros closed and is attached to the baby. This eliminates the need for loose blankets in the bed area. Sleep sacks are available from newborn sizes up to toddler sizes.

Check on your baby. Video monitors are a great tool. Some have microphones imbedded in the receiver so you can hear your baby breathing, and if you position the receiving camera right on the edge of the crib for the first few months, you will be able to see the rise and fall of their chest. The Angel Monitor system will sound an alarm to wake you if your baby stops breathing. 

Finally, for those who wish to co-sleep, there are infant cots that fit on your bed and create a barrier to prevent anyone from rolling onto the baby.

Always heed the recommendations of health professionals when it comes to infant sleep habits and safety guidelines to keep your newborn healthy.