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5 Ways to Avoid Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare…SIDS

Do you secretly worry about your baby dying? I know it’s not something we like to talk about, it’s not like we chat about it over coffee. Truth be told, I reckon it’s every mother’s greatest fear. Obsession even.

*looks innocently at the sky and taps foot*

If I whisper quietly (please don’t tell my husband but I suspect he knows) I’ll confess that I would spend hours watching my first baby sleep.

  • Checking him before I went to sleep? Yep!
  • Making sure he was still breathing? Yep!
  • Still breathing? Yep!
  • Still breathing? Yep!

Being a mother and a doctor sometimes has it’s down sides. You turn into an overqualified hypochondriac.

How Likely is My Baby
to Die from SIDS?

SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is when a baby under the age of 12 months dies suddenly and no one can find out the reason why.

The chance of it happening is small, roughly about 6 in 1000 babies die each year, with 65% happening in the first 3 months of life. (To put that into some kind of perspective, your chance of having twins is roughly 30 in 1000).

Why Does SIDS Happen?

That’s the thing, despite loads of research, no one really knows. There are theories, but until they’re proven, they’re just theories. Perhaps babies over heat, perhaps they don’t get enough oxygen, something covers their face, or because they’re rebreathing old air. Or perhaps they have some rare disease that is as yet undiscovered. Researchers (you can almost hear their brains ticking) continue to do work in the area, but it’s a difficult area to research. Thank fully it’s much rarer than it used to be.

Fortunately, there is a whole heap of stuff that can help reduce your baby’s chances of dying from SIDS.

Here are five of the most-proven ways to decrease your baby’s SIDS risk. 

SIDS Stopper #1
Watch How and Where They Sleep

It’s recommended that your baby sleep in the same room as you, in a separate cot/crib/bassinet for the first 6 months.

There is a theory (theory = not proven) that hearing you breathe acts as a stimulant to remind your baby to breathe. Forget to breathe? Yes, you heard correctly.

Back to Sleep

Put your child to bed on their back.  In the 1990’s the worldwide campaign ‘Back to Bed’ pretty much halved the death rate. (Wowsers, that’s a good campaign.)

If your baby is arching his little back and seems really uncomfortable sleeping in that position, think over the possibility of  acid reflux.  It’s possible to have silent reflux without all that sicky spit-up mess. If you’re concerned, chat to your healthcare professional.

What if they roll over? For a time they can get stuck on their front because they learn to roll from back to front first. Don’t worry, if you see them, turn them over but don’t go checking every 5 minutes.

A Boring Crib

The crib/cot should be free of all unnecessary accessories. No pillows, no teddy bears (I know, I know, they’re so cute…how about putting them on a nearby shelf?)

No loose things, no added ‘fluff’.

As for crib bumpers…Heather thinks there’s a time and place to use them.  They can be really useful, but only when the right bumpers are used in the right way.

Avoid Bed-Sharing

What about sleeping in the same bed?

This is a very controversial topic.  Some people can feel very strongly about it. They feel that the bonding benefits out weigh the risks.  After all, they remind us, pretty much everything we do is ‘risky’ in one way or another. That glass of wine you had last night? Yep! Increases your risk of lots of things…Crossing the road? Increases your risk of being run over… we take risks all the time, so bed-sharing is no big deal.

However, some risks are more risky.  There’s a .00001% chance I’ll get run over crossing the road, but there’s a 100% chance I’ll die if I jump without a parachute.

Bed-sharing isn’t 100% obviously, but it does increase your 0-3 month old baby’s SIDS risk five times (and that’s even if you breastfeed and don’t take drugs or alcohol.) Perhaps the loose covers suffocate the baby, or a deeper sleeper rolls ontop of him.  Either way, it’s riskier than just co-sleeping.

Sidenote:  “Co-sleeping” is the term you use when your baby is sleeping in the same room as you.  “Bed-sharing” is when you are literally sleeping with your baby.  Bed-sharing is NOT recommended as a safe sleeping practice.  “Co-sleeping” in separate beds in the same room is actually recommended as a way to help with nighttime feedings and bonding.

If you do decide to bed share, make sure you don’t…

  • drink alcohol
  • take drugs
  • feel especially tired (I know, how does that work when you have a little one?)
  • sleep on a sofa or armchair

It’s even more dangerous if your baby…

  • was born under 37 weeks
  • weighed under 2.5kg when born

Dr McKenna, one of the world’s few infant sleep researchers has a great article on safe sleeping practices, including how to bed share in the safest possible way. He has lots of great tips, including being careful with very long hair. If you’re thinking about bed sharing, please check it out.

SIDS Stopper #2
Watch Your Baby’s Temperature

Babies don’t regulate their body temperature as well as we do. (Honestly, they aren’t so good at most things except pooing, screaming and spitting up.)

It’s important to help them stay at just the right temperature, to prevent over-heating.

  • Keep the room temperature at 61º -68º F or 16º -20º  C
  • Dress her with loose clothing.
  • Try a baby sleep sack.  They don’t cover the head and are the correct warmth.
  • If you live in a warm climate, dress your baby in a loose cotton onesie or just a diaper (as long as he’s not old enough to “explore” the diaper!)
  • Avoid loose covers and loveys that can cover their face (not exactly rocket science is it?)
  • Keep your baby’s head uncovered indoors (hats are for hospital and outdoors.)
  • Use a firm, new, water proof mattress.  (These non-toxic organic crib mattresses are a great.)
  • Put your baby to bed with their feet at the bottom of the cot.

SIDS Stopper #3
No More Smoking

Stop smoking.

*drum roll*

Smoking is bad for you and your baby. This is another biggy.

Maternal smoking doubles your risk factor for SIDS. Even smoking in pregnancy is bad for your baby and increases its risk of dying from SIDS later on. So, if you’re pregnant or have a baby, now is the time to give up. And that includes dads and anyone who’s in close contact with the baby. Yep, and sorry, smoking outside isn’t great either, the smoke hangs round on your clothes.

It seems like Mt. Everest, yes.  But even Everest was conquered eventually.  Talk to friends.  Talk to your doctor.  Find the support you need to quit.

SIDS Stopper #4
Give Breastfeeding a Go

Breastfeeding.

*Another drum roll please*

Breastfeeding is good for you, for both moms and babies. There’s a whole heap of benefits but the top two for now are that it…

  1. reduces the risk of SIDS and
  2. lets you eat cake, or ice cream, or chocolate, or more cake…retty much whenever you like with absolutely no feelings of guilt.

All those calories go to the baby right?

*wink*

SIDS Stopper #5
Stick a Pacifier in It

There is some evidence that pacifiers can decrease your baby’s risk of SIDS.

It’s not fabulous evidence (some questions are difficult to answer) but it is recommended that you use a pacifier when you put them to sleep from 4 weeks old and stop between 6 and 12 months old. (Sugar and neck cords are a no-no I’m afraid.)

Other SIDS Resources

Breathing Monitors

Some parents  will buy apnoea monitors that alert them if their baby stops breathing.  Most doctors don’t recommend them as they can increase anxiety as they can go off frequently.  However, they are available to buy and if you feel it would put your mind at rest, two popular options are…

  1. The Angelcare monitor ~ the baby lays on a special mat to monitor heart rate and movements.
  2. Snuza Halo breathing monitor ~ clips onto the diaper directly, so there’s no cord.

A How-To Neonatal Resuscitation Video

I strongly recommend going on a neonatal resuscitation course. They’re really quick and easy to do.

Hopefully you’ll never need to use it, but if something awful did happen, this course would help you know what to do straight away. I’ve done a little video here to show you what’s involved.

Free Safe Sleeping Guidelines
from a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach

Chances are, you already know this…but just in case you missed the memo, Heather Taylor (the Chief Encouragement Officer here at Mighty Moms) is also a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

She has compiled a free printable called the Safe Sleeping Guidelines that will really come in handy.  You can get it free by filling out the form on this page. She’ll email it straight over.

Of course, there are no guarantees in life, but by implementing these little things, you will significantly decrease your child’s risk of dying of SIDS.  (And who doesn’t want that?)

Have You Read These Yet?

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4 thoughts on “5 Ways to Avoid Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare…SIDS

  1. I would like to clarify the term THEORY when speaking of scientific evidence since it is grossly misused in this article. A scientific theory = proven again and again and again. I would clarify that what the author means when speaking of ‘theories” regarding SIDS research (and it surprises me that they as a pediatrician misused this term) is that us scientists have a hunch, a hypothesis, a guess and some evidence to back this up. However, these studies have not proven this over and over again in multiple ways. We do not have “theories” on SIDS, like we have theories of disease (germ theory), cell theory or evolutionary theory. This may sound like nitpicking, but this leads to A LOT of confusion between what researchers mean and what the public hears.

  2. Hi Heather,
    I love your website! It has been truly instrumental in helping me these last few weeks with our first baby!
    Quick question: I’m using lightweight swaddle blankets or the “Summer Infant Swaddle Me” burrito bag w/ Velcro at night on my 6-week old daughter. She calms down really well when swaddled. But my question is: at what point do we stop swaddling? And when should we start using a sleep sack, like you’ve recommended here?
    Thank you!

    1. Anjali, I’m glad you’ve found the website helpful! You should stop swaddling as soon as your baby starts rolling over. A swaddled, rolling baby is a safety hazard. Un-swaddling is easy for some babies…torture for others. This article walks you through how to un-swaddle successfully. 🙂

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