10 ways to prevent sudden infant death

Sudden infant death syndrome or crib death is the inexplicable death, usually during sleep, of an apparently healthy child of 12 months or younger.

Although SIDS can occur anytime during a baby’s first year and the peak cases are between the first two and four months of infancy, the majority (about 90 per cent) of SIDS deaths occur before a baby reaches six months of age. It occurs more often in males than females.

In developing countries, where diagnostic facilities including toxicological and microbiological investigations are not up to speed, cases of infants dying of SIDS largely go undocumented. As most of the risk factors of SIDS are common in developing countries, the cases are further exacerbated in these countries. Since Nigeria is a developing country and also has tropical weather conditions, more infant deaths are likely to occur, especially during hot weather periods.

Even though there is no 100 per cent way to prevent SIDS, there are many things to do to lower baby’s risk. Since the American Academy of Paediatrics issued its safe sleep recommendations in 1992 and launched its “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994, the SIDS rate has dropped dramatically.

Below are 10 ways according to experts on how to effectively safeguard babies from sudden infant death syndrome.

Put a sleeping baby on their back

According to a doctor in general paediatric medicine and paediatric emergency medicine, Amita Shroff, a baby’s risk of SIDS is much higher any time they sleep on their side or stomach. A baby placed on their side can roll over on their stomach. These positions put a baby’s face in the mattress or sleeping area, which can smother them.

She said, “Every time you put your baby in their bed to sleep – for naps, at night, or any time – lay them down on their back. Don’t let them sleep in a stroller, car seat, baby seat or swing for a prolonged period. Get them out and lay them on a flat surface or bed.”

Shroff stated that it was necessary to tell anyone taking care of babies on how essential it was to lay sleeping babies on their back each time. “That includes grandparents, babysitters and childcare providers, older siblings, and others. They may think one time won’t matter, but it can. When a baby who usually sleeps on their back is suddenly laid on their stomach to sleep, the risk of SIDS is much higher,” she said.

She added that there was no cause for worries that a baby might choke while sleeping on their back since choking was rare and healthy babies tended to swallow or cough up fluids automatically.

She said, “If you’re concerned, ask your paediatrician about elevating the head of your baby’s bed. Once your baby can roll over both ways, which usually happens around six months, they may not stay on their back. It’s fine to let them choose their sleep position once they know how to roll over.”

Firm bed, no soft toys or bedding

To prevent smothering or suffocation, always lay your baby to sleep on either a firm mattress or surface in a crib or bassinet. All your baby’s crib needs is the fitted sheet – don’t put blankets, quilts, pillows and stuffed toys in your baby’s crib. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, adhering strictly to these recommendations reduces the risk of SIDS and death or injury from suffocation, entrapment, and strangulation.

Don’t smoke around baby

For women who smoke, to prevent cases of SIDS, it is advised to cut off smoking before they get pregnant as well as during the term of the pregnancy.

Smoking is a hard habit to break, but it’s the single best thing a smoking mom can do for her baby, and herself. Infants born to moms who smoked during pregnancy have a 60 per cent higher chance of having low birth weight–a risk factor for SIDS. An estimated 20 per cent of SIDS deaths could have been prevented simply by quitting smoking.

Shroff said, “Babies born to women who smoked during pregnancy die from SIDS three times more often than babies born to non-smokers. Smoking when you’re pregnant is a major risk factor for SIDS, and second-hand smoke around your infant also increases the chances of SIDS. It is important to not let anyone smoke around your baby.”

Keep sleeping baby close 

When a baby sleeps in the same room as their mom, studies show it lowers the risk of SIDS as the baby can easily be monitored. Notwithstanding, a baby should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else, including siblings or pets. Couches and armchairs can also be dangerous for babies if adults fall asleep as they feed, comfort, or bond with the baby while on the surfaces.

The US Department of Health and Human Services stated that if one brings one’s baby to one’s bed for comforting or breastfeeding, one ought to be sure to put the baby back in their cradle, bassinet, or crib when one prepares to sleep. It added that if a mother was tired, she shouldn’t breastfeed while sitting in a chair or on a couch in case she fell asleep. Mums were also advised not to put the baby to bed with them when tired or using medicines that affected their sleep.

Breastfeed as long as you can

Breastfeeding has many health benefits for mothers and their babies. Babies who breastfeed, or are fed breast milk, are at lower risk for SIDS than babies who were never fed breast milk. A longer duration of exclusive breastfeeding leads to an even lower risk. Breastfeeding one’s baby can lower the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 per cent though experts were sure why.

Shroff said, “Breast milk may protect babies from infections that raise their SIDS risk. However, do not drink alcohol if you breastfeed, because that raises your baby’s risk of SIDS.”

Immunise babies

Evidence suggests that babies who’ve been immunised following medical recommendations have a 50 per cent reduced risk of SIDS compared with babies who aren’t fully immunised.

Shroff said, “Vaccines not only protect your baby’s health, but research shows that vaccinated babies are at lower risk for SIDS. Pointing to the fact that certain factors that cause SIDS may also be fostered by ailments that affect young children.”

Consider a pacifier to put baby to sleep

Putting your baby to sleep with a pacifier may also help prevent SIDS, though researchers aren’t sure why. There are a few tips to follow when using a pacifier:

Shroff stated, “Do not attach the pacifier to anything—like a string, clothing, stuffed toy, or blanket—that carries a risk for suffocation, choking, or strangulation. Wait until breastfeeding is well established (often by 3 to 4 weeks) before offering a pacifier. Or, if you are not breastfeeding, offer the pacifier as soon as you want. Don’t force the baby to use it. If the pacifier falls out of the baby’s mouth during sleep, there is no need to put the pacifier back in. Pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDS for all babies, including breastfed babies.”

Keep baby from overheating

“Cover your baby properly so they don’t catch a cold.” This is a popular piece of advice given to parents by older mothers. However, overheating may raise a baby’s risk of SIDS. It is best to dress your infant in light, comfortable clothes for sleeping, and keep the room temperature at a level that’s comfortable for an adult. For a country like Nigeria where the weather is almost always hot, it is pertinent that babies be dressed appropriately to prevent overheating.

Shroff said, “If you’re worried about your baby staying warm, dress them in pyjamas that cover arms, legs, hands, and feet, or place them in a wearable blanket. However, don’t use a regular blanket – your baby can get tangled in it or pull the blanket over their face.”

Space things out

Getting pregnant too soon after delivery is hard on your body, and can negatively impact the health of your newborn. Your body needs time to recuperate and replenish itself after nine long months of growing a new person.

Shroff noted, “Depleted maternal reserves could be one factor that causes the significant increase in SIDS risk when children are born close together. Waiting at least one year before getting pregnant again is recommended.”

No honey for baby under one year

Honey can be contaminated with botulism spores, which are found in water, soil, dust, improperly processed foods, and sometimes the air. Since botulism has been heavily linked with SIDS, it is unsafe to give honey to infants

A food safety expert, Suzanne Schreck, said that honey consumption was a risk factor for infant botulism, and parents should not feed honey to infants less than 12 months old.

Sources: FoodSafetyNews, WebMd, Mom365, NationalInstituteofHealth

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