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SIDS: Preventing a parent's worst nightmare

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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a parent's worst fear. Each year 3,500 babies in the U.S. die unexpectedly. 

SIDS is one of the leading causes of death among babies younger than 6 months. Doctors say parents can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by keeping their child's crib in the same room for at least the first six months of their lives. 

There are things like breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact that parents can do to foster bonding and brain development. But experts are offering other important information - some of which could save your infant's life. 

"You don't know the cause, there is no explanation for the death. It typically happens when the baby is sleeping," said registered  NICU nurse Jennifer Amaya. 

Although SIDS can happen at any time, there are things experts advise that you can do to help prevent the unexplained condition or others that can occur during sleep.

"The new guidelines that the Academy of Pediatrics is trying to teach are the "ABCs of Safe Sleep" and that stands for I sleep best Alone, on my Back, and in my own Crib. We are trying to get parents away from co-sleeping," Amaya said. "That is one of the biggest risk factors for SIDS. Also another new recommendation is placing infants to sleep on their back. It used to be okay to put infants to sleep on the side or on the tummy. We call it the prone position and that is no longer recommended and has been ruled as unsafe. So we are trying to teach them to sleep exclusively on their back." 

Over the years, a number of risk factors have been identified that increase the likelihood of SIDS:

  • ·         Sleeping on the stomach.
  • ·         Being around cigarette smoke while in the womb or after being born.
  • ·         Sleeping in the same bed as their parents (co-sleeping)
  • ·         Soft bedding in the crib.
  • ·         Multiple birth babies (being a twin, triplet, etc.)
  • ·         Premature birth. 

"SIDS is still the leading cause of death for infants under a year of age. One baby dying of SIDS is too many so anything we can do to lessen that number. Since the 'Back to Sleep' campaign came out in 1994, the rate of SIDS deaths has declined significantly, but we still have work we can do. And we are pushing education to try and get that number to zero," said Amaya. 

There is no sure way to prevent SIDS, and no exam or test can predict whether a baby is likely to die of SIDS. Don't rely on breathing (apnea) monitors, special mattresses, or other devices marketed as a way to reduce your baby's risk of SIDS. None of these items have been proven to lower the risk of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not advise their use. 

What are the symptoms?
SIDS has no symptoms or warning signs. Babies who die of SIDS seem healthy before being put to bed. They show no signs of struggle and are often found in the same position as when they were placed in the bed. 

How is SIDS diagnosed?
SIDS is named the cause of death only when no other cause is found. To find out why a baby died, medical experts review the baby's and parents' medical histories, study the area where the baby died, and do an autopsy

What can you do to reduce the risk of SIDS?
Although there is no definitive cure or preventative for SIDS, experts recommend a number of methods that may help minimize the risk:

  • The most important thing you can do is to always place your baby to sleep on his or her back rather than on the stomach or side. 
  • Don't use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs while you are pregnant. And don't expose your baby to secondhand smoke during or after your pregnancy. 
  • For the first 6 months, have your baby sleep in a crib, cradle, or bassinet in the same room where you sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you don't ever sleep with your baby in the same bed, especially if you smoke or have used alcohol, illegal drugs, or medicine that makes you sleep very soundly (sedatives). Never sleep with a baby on a couch or armchair. And it is not safe to place your baby on a couch to sleep. The safest place for a baby is in a crib, cradle, or bassinet that meets safety standards. 
  • Keep soft items and loose bedding out of the crib. Items such as blankets, stuffed animals, toys, and pillows could suffocate or trap your baby. Dress your baby in sleepers instead of using blankets. 
  • Make sure that your baby's crib has a firm mattress (with a fitted sheet). Don't use bumper pads or other products that attach to crib slats or sides. They could suffocate or trap your baby. 
  • Don't let your baby sleep in a stroller, swing, car seat or baby chair for any length of time. Try to lay him on a flat surface on his back. 
  • Keep the room at a comfortable temperature so that your baby can sleep in lightweight clothes without a blanket. Usually, the temperature is about right if an adult can wear a long-sleeved T-shirt and pants without feeling cold. Make sure that your baby doesn't get too warm. Your baby is likely too warm if he or she sweats or tosses and turns a lot. 
  • Breastfeed your baby and have your baby immunized. 
  • Consider giving your baby a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. This may help prevent SIDS, though experts don't know why. If you breastfeed, wait until your baby is about a month old before you start giving him or her a pacifier. 
  • Touch is important, so try to get some skin-to-skin time with your baby.

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