Every new parent needs to learn about SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. And while the numbers are decreasing, about 2,500 infants in the United States still die from SIDS each year. Scientists don't yet know how to prevent it, but there are specific precautions you can take to reduce its risk.
Experts define SIDS as the sudden, unexplained death of an otherwise healthy infant under the age of one. It occurs when babies are sleeping, which is why it is also referred to as "crib death." It is the leading cause of death in infants under age 12 months, and occurs most often in infants between the ages of 2-4 months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Although it's been the subject of many studies, researchers still don't know what causes SIDS. One thing we do know: back-sleeping babies are at less risk of SIDS than babies who sleep on their tummies or sides. The incidence of SIDS deaths has declined by more than 50% since 1994, when America's first "Back to Sleep" campaign was launched.
There are several theories regarding the possible causes of SIDS. One is that bedding around babies' faces can limit air supply, forcing them to re-breathe exhaled air, which is low in oxygen and high in carbon dioxide, a toxin. Another is that SIDS babies may not have the ability to wake themselves when their air is limited, due to a deficit in a part of the brain called the arcuate nucleus.
While the research continues, most experts agree that it may be a combination of factorsrather than a single causethat contributes to SIDS. That's why it's important to take every precaution when laying your baby down to sleep.
There are a number of precautions you can take to make baby's sleep environment safer, including these recommendations offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the American SIDS Institute:
There is one drawback to back-sleeping: it can lead to positional plagiocephaly, or the development of a flat spot on the back of baby's head. To avoid this problem, experts recommend plenty of supervised tummy time, which also helps build neck and torso strength. They also suggest changing babies' position during waking hours, and varying the angle of baby's head while lying on his back.
As heartbreaking as it is, a parent can take every possible precaution and still lose a child to SIDS. Sometimes it is simply unpreventable. It is not in any way the parent's fault.
It is hard to imagine a more devastating tragedy, or one that's harder to come to terms with. That's why SIDS support groups and organizations are so important. To find a support group near you, visit the First Candle/SIDS Alliance or The SIDS Network.
One Step Ahead supports SIDS research and is a long-time sponsor of First Candle/SIDS Alliance. In time, medical researchers will unlock the mystery of SIDS. But until that day comes, it's important for parents to educate themselves and take every precaution to protect their babies.
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