It’s so heartbreaking to hear news about babies dying in their sleep. But can something be done to prevent this from happening? Learn more about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) here.
What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS is part of a larger classification of unexpected infant deaths called Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy.
SIDS, also known as crib or cot death, is the sudden and unexplained death of a baby between 1 and 12 months old. This usually happens while the baby is asleep. It is also considered one of the leading causes of death among infants.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome kills nearly 3,000 babies each year. SIDS victims are babies, who appear to be perfectly healthy when their parents put them down for a nap or at bedtime, but never wake up. Needless to say, it’s a devastating and horrific tragedy that can happen to anyone at any time.
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics modified its recommendations for preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and sleep-related newborn fatalities.
Despite the ongoing communication efforts, there appears to be a gap between public health recommendations to prevent SIDS and promote safe sleeping environments, and what parents actually practice with regard to infant sleeping environments, as evidenced by the continued infant mortality statistics.
Image Source: Pexels
Around 196 babies or a rate of 0.28 deaths per 1,000 live births still die every year of SIDS in the United Kingdom in 2019, the Office for National Statistics in the UK said.
Also in 2019, about 170 or a rate of 0.27 per 1,000 live births unexplained infant deaths occurred in England and Wales. This, however, showed a decrease from 0.32 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018.
Meanwhile, boys are more at risk of SIDS than girls with 55.3 per cent or 0.29 per 1,000 live births happening in 2019. In the same year, the SIDS was highest for mothers aged under 20 with 0.96 deaths per 1,000 live births.
A statistic from The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019 showed that there were about 1,250 deaths due to SIDS, about 1,180 deaths due to unknown causes, and about 960 deaths due to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed in the United States.
Here on the island, SIDS is not a commonly discussed topic. However, it’s important to know what measures families can take to help reduce their baby’s risks.
What is SIDS caused by?
Image source: iStock
No one knows for sure what causes SIDS. What we do know, however, is that SIDS victims stop breathing and lack the ability to alert themselves to start breathing again.
Many researchers and clinicians affirm that SIDS might be associated with abnormalities in the part of the infant’s brain. That is responsible for regulating breathing and sleep-wake function. However, this claim has yet to be proven beyond doubt.
In 1994, Filiano and Kinney proposed the Triple-risk model for SIDS to explain how it occurs. The model poses that SIDS happens when these three conditions exist at the same time:
- The infant is exposed to exogenous stressors such as prone sleeping position, soft and loose bedding, exposure to secondhand smoke, or an upper respiratory infection;
- the baby has an underlying abnormality such as defects in the part of the brain that controls cardiac function and respiration;
- These conditions prevail during a vulnerable stage in the child’s development, especially during the first six months of life.
Does SIDS have symptoms?
Even with years of research given to find more about SIDS, there are still no easy answers when it comes to clearly identify symptoms. Although the exact cause of SIDS is unknown, certain risk factors have been identified:
Parental risk factors
- Babies who receive poor prenatal care
- Whose mothers smoked, drank alcohol, and consumed drugs during their pregnancy
- Babies born to mothers who are under the age of 20
Environmental and Physical risk factors
- Babies born prematurely or at very low birth weight
- Babies exposed to certain stressors (such as sleeping tummy-down or on too soft bedding)
- Infants who become too hot or too cold while asleep
- Babies with prolonged tobacco smoke exposure even after birth
- Who had an apparent life-threatening event (e.g. babies who have turned pale and required resuscitation)
- Babies who recently suffered from respiratory infections might experience breathing problems.
- SIDS is most prevalent in babies between the ages of two and four months, but there are more than a few cases each year in babies up to one year of age.
- Sex may be a factor as 3 out of 5 victims are boys.
- Babies born with underlying vulnerabilities and abnormalities (like brain and heart abnormalities and respiratory infections)
- Babies who have siblings or blood relatives who died from SIDS.
How to prevent SIDS
It is so heartbreaking to hear news about a baby who dies in her sleep for unknown reasons. No parent should ever go through the pain of losing her newborn without much explanation.
While there is no clear way to prevent SIDS from happening, there are a number of practical precautions parents can take to lower the risk of SIDS:
Image source: iStock
Put your baby to sleep on his back
Babies placed on their stomachs or sides to sleep may have more difficulty breathing than those placed on their backs. This is because when infants sleep tummy-down, they’re more likely to overheat, breathe incorrectly, and re-breathe carbon dioxide air they’ve exhaled, which lacks oxygen.
If you’re worried about your baby developing a flat spot on his head after too much back time, you can always give your baby adequate amounts of tummy time while she’s awake and under your watchful eye.
So the next time some elders insist on having the baby sleep on his tummy, gently take charge and say “No,” and tell them to wait until your baby is older and has more control over his body.
Choose your bedding wisely
When buying baby bedding, go with the basics: a firm mattress, a fitted sheet, and as few blankets, quilts, and fluffy padding as possible. Choosing appropriate bedding for infants will prevent smothering or suffocation.
Make sure to clear the crib of any linens, pillows, or stuffed toys that can accidentally move and block the baby’s airways during sleep. Should you give your baby a blanket, make sure it’s breathable, in case your baby wiggles under it or pulls it over his head.
Remove the bumper pad
And most importantly, avoid using bumper pads in cribs. Doing so will decrease the risk of strangulation and entrapment, increase airflow into the crib, and let you see your baby without any obstruction.
Co-sleep with your baby
There has been a lot of debate about co-sleeping and SIDS, but recent studies show that the rate of SIDS is lowest in cultures, such as in Asia, that traditionally share sleep. The best and safest option would be to room-sharing with your infant. Put your baby’s bassinet or crib closer to your bed so you can keep a close watch on her at all times.
If you’re set on co-sleeping, make sure your mattress is firm, that there’s enough space for you and your child, and that there’s nothing that will obstruct your baby’s breathing.
Always remember to trust your parental awareness – your bodies are so attuned to your newborn that you’ll wake up with even the slightest bit of uneasiness in your child.
Do not overheat your baby
In a tropical country like ours where it’s hot most of the year, there’s really a risk of overheating a newborn, especially when we alternate between air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned rooms.
It’s best to watch for signs of overheating like sweating and damp hair. Another way to tell if you’re bub is overheating is to put your hand on the back of his neck and feel if it is sweaty or warm.
Make sure your baby’s room is cool, and not too warm or stuffy. Hot stuffy air makes it more difficult to breathe.
Unless your baby’s a preemie, do not over-layer baby clothing and swaddles. Dress your baby in comfortable and light clothes for sleeping.
You may use onesies or pyjamas to cover arms, legs, hands, and feet if your concern is about keeping your baby warm. Instead of using a regular blanket, place them in a sleep sack or a wearable blanket.
Don’t cover your baby’s head. And to be sure, take your baby’s temperature now and again and make sure their body heat stays at a constant 36 degrees Celsius.
Breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed
You all know about the benefits of breastfeeding, and reducing the risk of SIDS is actually one of them. The protective effect is strongest if you breastfeed your baby exclusively for six months.
But even some breastfeeding is better than none – exclusively breastfeeding until 1 month of age already cuts the risk of SIDS in half.
Combining all these precautions with proper immunisations, infant care, regular paediatrician visits, and a good, clean environment (free of tobacco smoke, alcohol, and drugs) will give you the upper hand when it comes to avoiding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In SIDS case, prevention is definitely key.
Offer a pacifier
The sucking reflex from using a pacifier aids in consistent breathing. It also helps soothe your baby to sleep.
For breastfeeding mothers, it is best to wait until the infant is regularly breastfed (not less than 1 month old) before using a pacifier. Your baby might experience nipple confusion if you introduce a pacifier too soon. Your child then would rather have the pacifier’s nipple instead of your own.
You may put the pacifier on the infant’s mouth when you put them to sleep. After they fall asleep, it is best not to put it back in their mouth.
Make sure that you keep the pacifier clean by sterilising it. Buy a new one if it is already damaged. Avoid putting any coating in the pacifier. Don’t compel your baby to use a pacifier if they don’t like it.
Common concerns related to SIDS
Flat head syndrome (positional plagiocephaly)
Some parents might worry if their babies would develop a flat spot on the back of their heads because of spending too much time lying on their backs.
However, this can be treated easily. You can change your baby’s position and allow more supervised “tummy time” while your baby is awake.
Spitting up or vomiting
Spitting up or vomiting while babies are sleeping on their backs is one of the things that parents also worry about. Take comfort in knowing that there is no increased risk for choking for healthy infants who sleep on their backs.
The same goes even for most babies with gastroesophageal reflux (GER). On the other hand, experts suggest that babies experiencing some types of rare airway problems sleep on their stomachs.
Take note of these life-saving interventions. Spread the word to other parents so they can also protect their babies from the risk of SIDS. Hopefully one day, we will know a definite cause for this tragic disease, which will lead to a definite cure.
It happens in the best of circumstances
Image source: iStock
While it is important for you to follow the safety guidelines for the prevention of SIDS, the fact is that some babies who die from SIDS die in spite of their parents doing everything right. Hopefully one day, we will know a definite cause for this tragic disease, which will lead to a definite cure.
Tell us if you have any more tips or ways to share with us!
Watch this video for more on this matter:
This article was republished with permission from theAsianparent Singapore.
Here at theAsianparent Malaysia, it’s important for us to give information that is correct, significant, and timely. But this doesn’t serve as an alternative for medical advice or medical treatment. theAsianparent Malaysia is not responsible to those that would choose to drink medicines based on information from our website. If you have any doubts, we recommend consulting your doctor for clearer information.
Disclaimer: You are not allowed to share this article on any other website or on Facebook without providing proper credit and the original article link on theAsianparent Malaysia website
Read more: Baby Growth Spurts: Timeline, Signs, and Tips
Read more: Newborn Baby Boy Circumcision: What It is, Aftercare and More
Read more: Are Pacifiers Good For Your Baby?