Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS, is a devastating disease. The causes are relatively unknown, and the effects are far too apparent.
The reality is that infants who pass away from SIDS seem fine when they are placed in their beds, but then, devastatingly, never wake up. As tragic and terrifying as this is, it may be helpful for parents to understand it in more detail.
Many factors are considered “risk factors” for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A significant risk factor that parents should avoid at all costs is placing their infant in a prone position – face down – into their crib or bed.
- Parents should never smoke tobacco, or any other substances, around their children, but especially around babies.
- Infants should also never co-sleep with anyone else, including children.
- Parents should always avoid falling asleep with their babies in beds, or on chairs or couches.
- Infant’s beds should be empty (or as bare as possible), free of extra blankets, quilts, stuffed animals, or additional pillows.
Understanding the Root Cause
Many victims of SIDS are found to have suffocated in their sleep. Scientists are just beginning to link certain possible neurological flaws with SIDS, though the research is still very new.
The basic idea that some researchers are concluding is that the brain isn’t “talking” with the body during a SIDS event. There are receptors in our brain that send emergency alerts to our bodies to wake up if we are suffocating.
Carbon dioxide levels increase when you don’t get enough air, and this lack of CO2 triggers the alarm bells.
The problem, scientists now believe, is that victims of SIDS don’t have a working alarm system. Their bodies are never told to wake up if they have too much carbon dioxide in their blood.
Another issue is that the carbon dioxide builds up when babies are face down because they keep re-inhaling their breath.
The Connection Between Age and SIDS
As far as the age when the risk of SIDS goes down, most cases tend to occur between 2 and 4 months of age.
There is a significant decrease in SIDS deaths right around six months old. However, no baby is genuinely out of the woods until at least one year old.
Researchers believe the reduced risk at six months is likely related to babies beginning to be able to roll over on their own. Babies of that age and older can reposition themselves while they sleep, helping avoid an emergency.
Data shows that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is extremely rare after one year of age.
While no one knows which babies will be affected, certain situations lead to more SIDS-related deaths.
Who is at the highest risk for SIDS?
Boys are three times more likely to be victims of this syndrome than girls. Additionally, Native American and African-American children are at a much higher risk than other ethnic populations.
Infants that are at an increased risk also include low-weight babies, premature infants, and children of young mothers (mothers under 20 years old). Additionally, young mothers who have two babies are seeing even higher risk.
Typically, the risk of SIDS is very high for the second baby born to an already young mother. Some researchers have observed that teenage mothers are more likely to place a blanket and stuffed animals in the cribs of their little ones.
Reducing the Risk of SIDS
Avoiding Secondhand Smoke
There are plenty of other precautions to take during the first year of your baby’s life to prevent SIDS. As stated earlier, don’t smoke either during or after pregnancy. Sadly, many infants with SIDS are found to be in a smoke-filled environment.
Secondhand smoke is especially dangerous, mainly because a lot of people still consider it to be not as risky as first-hand smoking. It is.
Babies’ lungs are barely developing, and the smoke that seeps into their little lungs can cause asthma, respiratory issues, and chronic breathing problems. Couple this with a sleeping environment that has blankets and stuffed animals in the crib, and you have a recipe for SIDS.
Another problem is the position in which the baby sleeps. Many parents still place their infants face down because they tend to sleep better and with fewer interruptions.
Placing infants on their tummy is especially true when infants are sick. They seem to be less fussy and move around less. Even though it may seem like the child is benefiting (and the exhausted parent as well), you are not. Sadly, this practice causes your precious little one to be at a much, much higher risk of SIDS.
Avoid Overly Hot Environments
Overheating is another situation to try to avoid. Parents think that bundling up a sick baby, or on a cold night, will help them feel better and stay nice and warm. Unfortunately, this may lead to overheating, which has been linked directly to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Rather than adding extra blankets or clothing, leave your little one in just enough clothing to stay warm.
Try having some footed or warm pajamas for those colder nights! Check out these adorable Carter’s Baby 3-Pack Cotton Footed Sleep and Play outfits.
Do breastfeed, if possible. Breast milk is proven to increase infant health substantially. Also, it’s thought that breastfed babies wake up easier than babies who don’t breastfeed, which helps significantly in reducing their risk.
Use of Pacifiers
Give your baby a pacifier. Similar to breastfed babies, researchers think that many babies who use pacifiers wake up easier. An additional bonus is that babies who use pacifiers tend to sleep with their tongues forward, so they don’t block their airways with their tongue.
Keep Practicing Good Sleep Habits Until 1 Year
Even though no one knows who or how Sudden Infant Death Syndrome will strike, there are a variety of safeguards parents can put into place.
The time for parents to be most concerned regarding SIDS is during their little one’s first year of life. However, it peaks between the ages of 2 and 4 months and begins to decline around six months.
Parents should still be vigilant about having a healthy sleep environment for their baby between 6 months and one year of age. Just because your baby continues to grow stronger and more self-sufficient, does not mean that parents should become lax in their safety precautions.