Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) - What you actually need to know

By ryan

Few things are as terrifying to a new parent as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The idea that your newborn baby could slip away in the middle of the night is incomprehensible.

The goal of this blog post is to help demystify SIDS and equip you with the necessary steps to do all that you can in order to prevent it. We understand that you are probably a new parent or somebody who is about to welcome an infant into your home. As such, we are going to keep this intentionally brief and to the point. If you want to research more, click on the links at the end of this post.

Before we begin, it’s important to understand there is still much the scientific community doesn’t fully understand about SIDS. This is particularly true regarding facts related to its causes. Furthermore, there is no 100% certain way to prevent SIDS.

Regardless, there is a lot of promising research that has revealed a handful of preventative techniques that you can begin using immediately.

What Exactly is SIDS?

SIDS is defined as an unexplained sudden death of a baby under one year of age. In cases of SIDS, there is typically no sign of struggle or something going wrong. A victim is typically found without a pulse after a period of sleep. If a detailed autopsy doesn’t discover a viable cause of death, then the case is attributed to SIDS. When something biologically goes wrong while sleeping, the human body naturally tries to wake. SIDS is often characterized as the inability of an infant to properly wake when something is happening during sleep.

More Facts About SIDS

  • The vast majority of SIDS cases occur in infants younger than 6 months old.
  • Babies are at the highest risk of SIDS between the ages of 2 and 4 months.
  • SIDS is not contagious.
  • SIDS is not caused by vaccinations.
  • SIDS is not a result of poor parenting.
  • SIDS decreases when people are educated.

What Causes SIDS?

The ability to consistently predict SIDS is still beyond the reach of the scientific community. What we do know is that an increased risk of SIDS is attributed to a number of different factors, which can be categorized into genetic factors and environmental factors. For a detailed understanding of the genetic factors that contribute to SIDS, please visit the links at the end of this post.

What we will focus on in this post are the various environmental causes of SIDS and the most important actionable steps you can do to help prevent it. While you can’t control genetics, you certainly can control the following, so pay attention to these factors.

Bedtime Causes

Because SIDS happens while a baby is asleep, we will take an extended look at the risk factors present during sleep.

Babies who sleep on soft bedding are 2-3 times more likely to die from SIDS than babies who sleep on harder surfaces. Soft bedding includes:

  • Soft mattresses
  • Old mattresses
  • Comforters & Blankets
  • Pillows
  • Stuffed animals

Preventative Technique #1: Use a tightly fitted sheet on a hard mattress. Ensure no soft bedding (as defined above) is in the sleeping area.

Sleep Position

Sleep position is one of the most significant controllable measures you can take to reduce the risk of SIDS.

The face-down (prone) sleeping position has consistently been associated with an increased rate of SIDS. Studies have shown that placing your baby on his back during sleep, reduces the risk of SIDS. This is called the supine position.

Infants who are accustomed to a supine sleep position and then are placed in a prone (face down) position experience an even higher risk of SIDS.

Preventative Technique #2:

Place your baby on his or her back during sleep. Ensure daycare workers, babysitters, and nannies do the same.

Bed sharing

Babies are 5-9 times more likely to experience SIDS when sharing a bed with a mother who smokes. Babies have an increased risk of SIDS when bed sharing with a mother who doesn’t smoke, although the rate is lower. Bed sharing with other children is also extremely hazardous.

It’s important to note that any time more than one of the above negative environmental factors are at play, the risk of SIDS dramatically increases. However, room sharing (not bed sharing) has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS by about one-third.

Preventative Technique #3:

Don’t sleep in the same bed as your baby for the first year of life. Instead, have the baby sleep in a safety-approved crib in the same room you sleep in.

Room Temperature

In 2001, a group of scientists studied the arousal rates of children based on room temperature. What they found was that babies who slept in higher room temperatures had a more difficult time waking to auditory signals. What this means is babies who sleep in rooms with high temperatures may be more susceptible to SIDS.

The reason to keep your baby’s room temperature at a lower level is to help enable him or her to wake if something is indeed happening during sleep.

So what is the best room temperature for babies? The same study found that babies that slept in room temperatures under 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 Celsius) did not experience heightened difficulty of waking.

Preventative Technique #4:

Keep baby’s room temperature between 69 and 75 degrees F (20.5 - 24 C).

Pregnancy Causes

SIDS rates increase for mothers who receive less prenatal care later in pregnancy. Additionally, the relationship between prenatal smoking and SIDS is very strong. Babies are 3-5 times more likely to have SIDS when their mothers smoked during pregnancy than babies whose mothers did not. Additionally, the risk increases as daily cigarette use increases, and some studies indicate that babies who are exposed to smoke on a regular basis after birth are at higher risk as well.

Preventative Technique #5:

Don’t smoke while pregnant and limit exposure to smoke after birth.

Demographic Causes

Families with lower income and low education experience a higher risk of SIDS. South Pacific and Hispanic babies have the lowest incident rates, while SIDS is 5-7 times more likely to occur among indigenous people.

Boys are 30-50% more at risk than girls. Babies with older siblings are at higher risk generally, and babies with a sibling who experienced SIDS are at a much greater risk.

Despite all of this, wherever awareness campaigns have occurred, the rate of SIDS cases has declined.

Preventative Technique #6:

Get educated. (Congratulations! You’re doing that right now.)

Learn infant CPR

If you find your baby unresponsive, you will need to immediately begin CPR. CPR manually pumps the heart to give oxygenated blood to the brain and other vital organs. CPR on a baby can be very effective, especially when performed immediately, so it is absolutely vital that you know these skills. You can learn CPR today with our detailed online infant CPR Classes. Sign up once and receive lifetime access.

Preventative Technique #7:

Learn how to perform CPR

SIDS is a scary. There is no question about this. Regardless, there are plenty of preventative things you can do immediately to reduce the risk of SIDS in your home. Below is a handy checklist to ensure you are creating the safest possible environment for your newborn.

According to the CDC, SIDS rates have declined significantly since 1990. In 1990 there were about 130 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2013, that number has declined to 39.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. All things being equal, that means your baby has a .004% chance of SIDS. So follow this checklist, rest easy, and enjoy your baby!

SIDS Prevention Checklist

  • Don’t smoke, and limit smoke around your baby.
  • Put your baby on his or her back while sleeping.
  • Use a tight fitted sheet on a hard/new mattress for your baby to sleep on.
  • Baby should sleep in the same room, but not the same bed as parent.
  • Remove stuffed animals from bed.
  • Remove fluffy bedding.
  • Set temperature between 69 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Learn infant CPR.