Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Advice for Parents

Infant Death Syndrome

There are some life events that tug at the heartstrings of even the most stoic. The birth of a new baby and the possibility of new beginnings is celebrated all over the world. Sadly, not all babies live to realize their promise. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occurs when a baby, 12 months or younger, suddenly dies during sleep with no warning signs or explanation.

For many years, little or nothing was known about this deadly syndrome which notably claimed the lives of 15,000 babies worldwide in 2013. In Nigeria, we lack notable statistics of SIDS but we know that it happen, though rarely.

It is important to draw attention to this syndrome and understand its risk factors especially because it is impossible to predict when and to whom it may occur.

Understanding the risk factors

SIDS used to be more commonly known as ‘cot’ or ‘crib’ death as it often occurs when a baby is sleeping. The risk is higher when a baby is placed on their stomach or sides for it is easier for the baby to put their face into the mattress which can restrict breathing.

Research suggests that infants born prematurely or of low birth weight may be more vulnerable. This risk is also increased in mothers who smoke while pregnant and after the baby is born.

It is also thought that babies who die of SIDS may have a problem with the part of the brain that controls breathing and heart rate. So, when one of these babies experience environmental stresses, such as getting too hot, or when their mouth or nose is covered by bedclothes, they are unable to regulate their heart rate, breathing and body temperature.

A few simple steps to reduce your babies risk of SIDS:

1. Always place your baby on their back to sleep

One way to reduce the risk of SIDS is to lay your infant on her back (even when it is just a nap). Don’t worry about your baby choking while sleeping on her back. Choking is very rare, and healthy babies swallow or cough up any fluids.


2. Don’t sleep on a bed, sofa or armchair with your baby

While the risk of SIDS is lowered if an infant sleeps in the same room as the parents, the risk increases if the baby sleeps in the same bed — partly because there are more soft surfaces that can impair breathing. If, for comforting or breastfeeding, you do decide to bring your baby into bed with you, put the baby back in their own crib or cot once they are fast asleep.


3. Always use a firm mattress/bed with no soft toys or surfaces

To prevent suffocation, lay your baby down on a firm mattress or bed and use fitted sheets. Using a waterproof cover between the mattress and the fitted sheet will help keep the mattress clean and dry.


4. Don’t let your baby get too hot

As mentioned, it is thought that infants who die from SIDs are not able to control their body temperature. Provide a comfortable sleeping environment by dressing your little one in light clothes, use sheets rather than a duvet and keep the room temperature at a level that you, the adult, are comfortable in


5. Breastfeed your baby

Experts aren’t quite sure why but breastfeeding appears to lower the risk of SIDS considerably. Anything that provides longer and greater protection for babies is a good thing in our books.


Sources; Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control (CDC), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

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