There’s no way to sugar coat it: SIDS truly is a parent’s worst nightmare.
I remember worrying to the point where I got up several times a night to check on my son while he was sleeping. I was exhausting myself, and finally I had to sit down and come to terms with my fear. It is scary, but I realized I was doing everything I could to create a safe environment so the rest was out of my hands. I had to let it go.
My advice to parents is to do the same. Take the steps that we know can help prevent this terrible tragedy, and then enjoy your time with your new baby instead of being consumed by fear.
What is SIDS?
SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy infant (usually between 1 and 6 months) during sleep with no medical explanation. SIDS is rare, so when fear is taking over, remind yourself of this fact. According to the CDC Approximately 3500 infants die of SIDS every year in the US, but keep in mind that there are over four million babies born in the US in a year. Death rates have dropped by almost half since the Back to Sleep Campaign was launched in 1994 to inform parents of the importance of infants sleeping on their backs.
Many risk factors have been pinpointed, and fortunately there are things you can do to significantly reduce the chances of SIDS.
- Have a healthy pregnancy. One of the risks can be premature birth and low birth weight, and while these are not always preventable, eating a healthy diet and getting good prenatal care can help.
- Don’t allow smoking around your baby. One of the most significant risk factors for SIDS is exposure to cigarette smoke both before and after birth. Studies have shown that when babies breathe cigarette smoke, their risk of SIDS doubles.
- Put your baby to sleep on his back. This is extremely important, as researchers have discovered that this cuts the risk by almost 50%.
- Breastfeed your baby if you can. Although researchers aren’t sure why, SIDS rates tend to be lower in breastfed babies.
- Provide a safe sleeping environment. Avoid putting your baby to sleep on soft surfaces he can sink into such as beanbags, soft bedding, or couches.
Does bed-sharing increase the risk?
There has been a lot of controversy about whether babies who sleep in bed with their parents are at greater risk of SIDS. Experts are divided on the subject, with some claiming the risk is up to five times higher with bed sharing, and others claiming the opposite is true, and that in fact babies are safer sleeping with their parents.
Personally and professionally, I do believe the safest place for your baby is in their own crib or bassinet, but I do support co-sleeping, meaning the child’s bed is in the parent’s room. Each of my children slept in the room with us for the first year. Does this mean that I never resorted to bed-sharing? No.. but I never truly slept fantastic with a child in the bed. I personally experienced two near life changing experiences with my children. When my oldest daughter was around 3 months old I left her in the bed with my husband while I went to the restroom. When I returned he had rolled over onto her head. Her arms and legs reached in the air and you could hear a muffled cry, but he was sound asleep. Had I been gone much longer, she would not be here today and my life would be so very different. Fast forward 15 years when I was struggling for sleep with my youngest son(before I was saved by Sleep Sense), he was in the bed with my husband and I, and again I get up to use the restroom. I hear a loud thump as he hits his head on the floor after rolling out of our very tall bed. There was a lot of crying and a very large knot, and thankfully no long term effects, but this would not have been an issue had he been in his bed.
If you do plan to bed share, please make sure you do it properly. Avoid having piles of blankets and soft pillows around your baby and make sure you never sleep with your baby when you (or your spouse) have been using drugs (including prescription) or alcohol. Remember you may feel like you are a light sleeper but that doesn’t mean your spouse is.
Take the preventative steps and try to keep in mind that SIDS is rare, especially if you are following the guidelines. I was actually chatting with a pediatrician this weekend on this very subject and while he had seen several unfortunate cases of SIDS in his practice over the years it was always attributable to one of the known risk factors.
So take a deep breath and relax, enjoy parenthood, control what you can control, and get some worry-free sleep at night!