What's Up Doc – SIDS Awareness Month

November 2, 2016

SIDS: Education, Awareness Can Be Key to Safeguarding Your Infant

Ross Taylor, DRMC Chief Medical Officer (CMO)

October is National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month – a month in which our country commits itself to spreading awareness of SIDS. As a parent myself, I want to convey the importance of understanding SIDS and what we can do to prevent it.  

SIDS is the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age that cannot be explained even after a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene and review of the clinical history.  It is the leading cause of death among infants between the ages of one and 12 months and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claims about 3,500 lives each year in the United States.

While in many ways SIDS is a mystery, we do know that a combination of physical and sleep environmental factors can make an infant more vulnerable to it. 
While factors may vary from child to child, the following physical factors are associated with SIDS: 

  • Brain abnormalities. Some infants are born with problems that make them more likely to die of SIDS. In many of these babies, the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep doesn't work properly.
  • Low birth weight. Premature birth or being part of a multiple birth increases the likelihood that a baby's brain hasn't matured completely, so he or she has less reliable control over such automatic processes as breathing and heart rate.
  • Respiratory infection. Many infants who have died of SIDS have recently experienced a cold, which may contribute to breathing problems.

In addition, several sleep environmental factors are associated with SIDS, such as body positioning and temperature. Help manage these factors by adhering to the following guidelines: 
1.    Place infants to sleep on their backs, even though they may sleep more soundly on their stomachs. Infants who sleep on their stomachs and sides have a much higher rate of SIDS than infants who sleep on their backs. 
2.    Place infants to sleep in a baby bed with a firm mattress and nothing in the bed but the baby – no covers, no pillows, no bumper pads, no positioning devices and no toys. Soft mattresses, covers, pillows, bumper pads, positioning devices and toys are associated with the risk for SIDS.
3.    Do not place a baby in an adult bed to sleep.
4.    Do not over-clothe an infant while he/she sleeps. Overheating an infant may increase the risk for SIDS. Just use enough clothes to keep the baby warm without having to use a cover. 
5.    Avoid exposing infants to tobacco smoke. Don't have your infant in the same house or car with someone who is smoking. The greater the exposure to tobacco smoke, the greater the risk of SIDS. 
6.    Breast feed babies whenever possible. Because breast milk decreases the occurrence of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, studies show that breast-fed babies have a lower SIDS rate than formula-fed babies do.
7.    Avoid exposing infants to people with respiratory infections. Avoid crowds. Carefully clean anything that comes in contact with the baby. Have people wash their hands before holding or playing with your baby. SIDS often occurs in association with relatively minor respiratory (mild cold) and gastrointestinal infections (vomiting and diarrhea).
8.    Offer infants a pacifier. Some studies have shown a lower rate of SIDS among babies who use pacifiers.  
9.    If a baby has periods of not breathing, going limp or turning blue, contact his/her pediatrician at once. Similarly, if a baby stops breathing or gags excessively after spitting up, seek medical attention. 
10.    Thoroughly discuss each of the above points with all caregivers and ask them to follow all recommendations. 
To learn more about SIDS, visit the Web site of the American Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Institute at www.sids.org.