There are few things that strike fear into a new parent’s heart like sudden and unexpected infant death, (SUID). It’s the leading cause of death for infants aged 1 month to 1 year with more than 3,500 otherwise healthy babies in the U.S. dying from SUID every year. These deaths often occur during sleep or in the baby’s sleeping area.
Many SUID cases include sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed. While the exact causes of SIDS are unknown, research shows that practicing safe sleep habits can lower one’s risk for SUID.
According to guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics and adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here are some tips for parents and caregivers to practice safe sleep:
For Infants, Backs are Best
Research shows that infants who sleep on their backs at night and during naps are significantly less likely to die from SIDS than ones who sleep on their stomachs. However, 1 in 5 mothers reported having placed their babies in a noncompliant sleep position (on their stomachs or sides). This was even greater among mothers under the age of 25, as well as those with lower education level and socioeconomic status.
- Many new parents worry about their babies choking on spit-up at night. This is anatomically less likely.
- While receiving skin-to-skin contact with their mothers within the first hour of life is very important for development in newborns, they should be placed on their backs after this hour and anytime the infant is asleep.
- If babies roll onto their stomachs at night, place them back on their backs. If they can confidently roll back-to-tummy and tummy-to-back, then they can remain on their stomachs.
- Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended to facilitate development and to minimize development of positional flat head syndrome.
Sleep Easy on Firm Surfaces
Sleeping surfaces in cribs, bassinettes and playpens should be firm and clear of toys, pillows or loose-fitting bedding. The ideal sleeping surface should not indent when pushed on. If you’re concerned that your baby will get cold during the night, use infant sleep clothing, rather than a blanket.
- Infants that fall asleep in strollers, car seats, swings, slings, or carriers, should be moved to a hard surface and placed on their back as soon as possible.
- It’s OK to swaddle babies as long as they’re on their backs. While the swaddle should be secure, make sure it’s not so tight that it affects their ability to breathe.
- Infants should never be allowed or encouraged to sleep on couches, armchairs, or other soft furniture.
- Do not use a car seat, carrier, swing, or similar product as baby’s sleep area.
Room Share, Not Bed-Share
Placing newborns’ cribs or bassinets close to parents’ beds can reduce the risk of SIDS up to 50%. While it’s OK to bring them into bed for feeding or comfort, bed-sharing is not recommended. According to the AAP bed-sharing is even more dangerous if:
- The infant is younger than 4 months old.
- The infant was born prematurely or with low birth weight.
- Anyone sharing the bed is a smoker (even if they don’t smoke in bed).
- The infant’s mother smoked during pregnancy.
- Anyone sharing the bed took medications or drugs that affect their ability to wake up.
- Anyone sharing the bed drank alcohol.
- The sleeping surface is soft or covered with soft bedding.
Breastfeeding Reduces Risk
Breastfeeding is recommended to reduce the risk of SIDS and to enhance the health and well- being of the infant and the mother. The AAP recommended exclusive breastfeeding for six months (no formula, nutritional liquids or solid foods). Newer research demonstrates that exclusive breastfeeding can reduce the risk of SIDS by as much as 70%.
- Pacifier use at nap or bedtime reduces the risk of SIDS and is encouraged after breastfeeding is firmly established.
Sleep Safe, Rest Easy
While there’s no way to completely eliminate an infant’s risk for SUID, these simple, actionable steps can help significantly reduce their risk.
We at South Shore Hospital are committed to providing parents the tools and knowledge to ensure the practice of safe sleep at all times. As one of four Massachusetts health care organizations involved with the National Action Partnership to Promote Safe Sleep Improvement and Innovation Network (NAPPSS-IIN), we’re dedicated to supporting our families with evidence-based instruction on breastfeeding best practices as well as safe sleep habits throughout pregnancy and delivery.
To learn more about pregnancy and childbirth resources available through South Shore Hospital, visit our website.