One of the biggest fears of parents of a newborn baby is SIDS, short for “sudden infant death syndrome”. Thankfully, SIDS is rare, affecting approximately one out of one thousand babies born in the USA. There are several risk factors associated with SIDS, including genetics, the age of the baby (babies between 2 and 4 months are highest risk), maternal age, and the baby’s sleeping environment. Luckily, the latter can be modified. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released updated guidelines regarding sleep safety for babies. They are as follows:
One of the main AAP recommendations for the prevention of SIDS is that you always lay your baby down to sleep on their back, and not on their side or stomach. Many parents worry about their baby choking on vomit if they are suffering from gastroesophageal reflux but there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.
Only baby should be in the crib
Avoid placing soft toys, pillows, and loose bedding in the crib or cot with your baby. In addition, the use of bumper pads is not recommended as they have been implicated in suffocation, entrapment and strangulation. Bumper pads were developed to prevent entrapment of the baby’s head between the bars of the cot or crib; however, cots or cribs manufactured to newer standards have a narrower distance between the bars, rendering bumper pads unnecessary.
Use a firm mattress for your baby
Use a firm mattress for your baby and make sure it adheres to the newest safety standards. This is particularly important at the time your baby is old enough to roll over, as a soft mattress may create an indentation that can suffocate your baby. A breathable mattress is recommended, as it provides your baby with the support he or she needs while still letting air circulate. Also, only use mattresses that approved for a specific crib or cot.
Keep baby close but not too close
The AAP recommends that a baby sleep in the same room as the parents for at least the first six months and preferably for the first year. Research suggests that having the baby sleep on a separate surface in your room can reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 50 percent. There are special sleeping options for babies, called co-sleepers, that attach and are open to the side of your bed. Co-sleepers have the advantage that baby is close by but not actually sleeping in your bed, as this is a known risk factor for SIDS. In addition, when using a sling or baby carrier, make sure your baby’s head is up and above the fabric, the face is visible, and the mouth and nose are clear of obstructions, including your body or the sling.
Dress your baby appropriately for the room temperature. Ideally, babies should be wearing no more than one light layer more than what you would be wearing as an adult. Also, do not cover his or her head. Assess your baby for signs of overheating, such as sweating or your baby’s chest feeling hot to the touch.
Other steps you can take to improve the safety of your baby’s sleep include:
- Use of a pacifier at nap time or bedtime – studies have shown that this can have a protective effect
- Make sure your baby is up-to-date with his or her vaccinations, as recent evidence suggests that vaccinations may help prevent SIDS
- Feed in your bed. If you fall asleep while in a sofa or armchair, your baby could suffocate through entrapment or being wedged between seat cushions.
Regarding the safety of swaddling, the jury is still out for babies who are not yet able to roll over. However, once they can roll over, swaddling should be avoided.