Nine ways to reduce the risk of SIDS

Article at a Glance

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is one of the leading causes of death among babies under one year of age.
  • Reduce the risk of SIDS by placing babies on their back to sleep and making sure they are in a safe sleeping environment.
  • Offering a pacifier, breastfeeding, immunizations, room sharing, and keeping your baby from getting too warm all reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Smoking while pregnant or exposing your baby to secondhand smoke significantly increases the risk of SIDS.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is one of the leading causes of death among babies under one year of age. In 2014, SIDS claimed 1,500 lives in the United States. Unfortunately, doctors and researchers don’t understand exactly why SIDS happens, but years of research have shown us how to reduce the risk.

Following these simple steps can help babies and their parents sleep easier:

Babies under one year of age should always sleep on their backs:
Never place babies on their stomach or side to sleep, whether for a nap or at night. However, if your baby rolls herself over on to her side and she is able to roll herself back over again, you can leave her in that position. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) instituted this guideline in 1992, the incidence of SIDS has dropped by over 50 percent.

Babies should sleep on an uncluttered, firm, and flat surface:
While blankets and bumpers are cute, your baby is safer with a simple mattress and fitted sheet. There shouldn’t be any pillows or stuffed animals in the crib. Don’t use wedges, positioners or specialized sleep surfaces, even if they claim to reduce SIDS. No studies have supported these claims and some babies have suffocated while using products like these.

Make sure your crib meets current safety standards and hasn’t been recalled. Do not use a broken crib or one with a drop-side rail. Don’t put your baby to sleep on a couch, waterbed, cushion, or bed. Do not sleep in the same bed as your baby; this increases the risk of suffocation, strangulation, and SIDS.

Use baby equipment only as intended:
Items like car seats, swings, strollers, or infant carriers are important and useful, but they are not designed for leaving your baby sleeping and unattended. When your baby is in a baby carrier, do not place the carrier on an elevated surface or leave the buckles unfastened.

Share a room with your baby:
Studies are showing that sleeping with your baby’s crib or bassinet in the same room with you for the first six months can decrease the risk of SIDS.

Breastfeed your baby: Breastfeeding your baby reduces the risk of SIDS by about 50 percent. The AAP recommends breastfeeding your baby through six months of age.

Be sure your baby does not get too warm:
Babies sleep best and are safest when the room is at a comfortable temperature. Our instinct is to bundle them up, but they actually only need one extra layer than you would feel comfortable wearing. If your baby is sweating or feels hot to the touch, then you need to either remove layers of clothing or cool down the room.

Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke:
The risk of SIDS is three times greater if you smoke while pregnant. Exposing your baby to secondhand smoke doubles the risk. Don’t allow smoking in your home or anywhere around your baby.

Put your baby down for naps and bedtime with a pacifier:
Using a pacifier has been shown to decrease the risk of SIDS. The AAP recommends waiting one month until breastfeeding has been successfully implemented before beginning the use of a pacifier. Parents shouldn’t force infants to take a pacifier, nor should parents reinsert the pacifier if it falls out during sleep. Avoid tying any strings to pacifiers, as this can pose a choking hazard, and be sure to replace old pacifiers with new ones.

Make sure your baby is up-to-date on immunizations:
Studies show that keeping your baby current on all immunizations reduces the risk of SIDS by 50 percent. Well-child visits are also an important way to make sure your baby is healthy.
For more information:
Infant Sleep Positioning and SIDS (PDF)

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