SIDS–Protect your infants

As a mother enters the nursery to get her baby in the morning, she screams with terror. The infant, who appeared perfectly healthy at bedtime, has stopped breathing. What could have happened? More than likely, this is a case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (also known as “crib death”). Although the exact causes still remain unknown, researchers have identified several risk-factors linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome bringing us closer to solving this complex medical mystery that takes the lives of thousands of infants each year.

“Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS causes sudden, unexplainable death in babies under age one which usually occurs when a child is asleep,” says Rina Chabra, D.O., Family Practice physician at UPMC St. Margaret Hospital in Pittsburgh.

SIDS is rare yet it is one of the most common causes of death in babies between one and 12 months of age. Most babies who die of SIDS are between the ages of two and four months.

“What makes SIDS more baffling is the fact that it typically occurs without any warning signs or symptoms and the infant seems healthy prior to death,” Dr. Chabra says. “In most cases, a parent or caregiver puts the baby down to sleep and returns later to find the baby has died. It’s no one’s fault. SIDS can happen even when you do everything right.”

The good news is that today SIDS is much less prevalent in society than it was 25 years ago. This is primarily attributed to heightened awareness among physicians, parents and caregivers.

“No one really knows what causes SIDS, but there are several factors that may increase the risk,” Dr. Chabra says.

One of the most common risk factors for SIDS is when babies sleep on their bellies. Parents should ALWAYS place infants on their backs for sleeping.

“When babies sleep on their bellies, they may not breathe well. Not too long ago, side sleeping was said to be okay. But babies placed on their sides can easily roll onto their bellies and could have trouble breathing. So, parents are strongly advised to put babies on their backs for sleeping at all times,” says Dr. Chabra.

In addition, SIDS also seems to occur more often with premature babies and infants who have a low-birth-weight or babies who are part of a multiple pregnancy (for example, twins or triplets).  Babies may also have an increased risk for SIDS if the birth mother has anemia or low weight gain during pregnancy.

While several of the risk factors for SIDS can be avoided, many are uncontrollable. Nevertheless, parents should take as many precautions as possible to try to keep their child safe from SIDS.

According to Dr. Chabra, increased awareness is a key factor in fighting the battle against SIDS. Some things that may help keep a baby safe from SIDS include:    

• Always place infants to sleep on their backs.
• During pregnancy, make sure you get regular medical care helping to avoid the chance of having a premature birth.
• Stay away from alcohol, smoking and drugs during pregnancy.
• Avoid pregnancy during the teen years. As a woman gets older the chance that she will have a baby that is affected by SIDS drops drastically. The highest number of SIDS cases happens to teenage moms.
• Wait at least a year after you have a baby to get pregnant again.
• Make sure your baby has a firm mattress without pillows, comforters, blankets and stuffed animals.
• Keep light clothing on your baby and the temperature at a comfortable level to avoid overheating when the infant is asleep.
• Avoid exposing your baby to people who smoke or environments where there is tobacco smoke.
• Breastfeed your baby if possible. Breastfeeding may reduce the risk of SIDS.
• If your baby was a preemie, exposed to any substances while in the womb, was born to a teenage mother or had a sibling who died of SIDS, consider getting a monitor that keeps track of your child’s breathing.

Researchers are studying the possibility that SIDS may be linked to problems with how well the brain controls breathing, heart rate and rhythm and/or temperature during the first few months of life. But, more research on this is required.

If you are concerned about your baby’s health or want more information about SIDS, call your pediatrician or mention it at your baby’s next check-up. Together, parents and healthcare providers can help fight the threat of SIDS… Together, we can save our kids. 

Mona Chabra is a freelance writer from  Sewickley, PA.