Safer sleeping to limit SIDS

If you find yourself bending over your sleeping baby listening for breath sounds or even rousing your little one to ensure he is still alive, you are in good company. There is without question no greater fear for parents than finding that their sleeping baby had died in his sleep.

Sleep is most parents’ first separation from their baby. And for many this elicits anxiety. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as Cot/Crib death, is the shocking circumstance when a parent finds their sleeping baby dead and medical science can offer no reason for the death.

Until recently in the developed world, SIDS was the leading cause of death in healthy babies under a year of age. Since 1983 the number of deaths due to SIDS has halved to around 2500 deaths a year in the USA. The same would not be true for developing countries where illness and social problems pose greater risks. But because cot death occurs for no good reason in perfectly healthy babies it becomes a fear we all face.

Even though the odds of a cot death are low, it is wise to put your baby to sleep safely to limit the chances of SIDS.

Where should your baby sleep?

The debate on co-sleeping rages on, with options polarized on where the best place for babies to sleep is. A significant body of literature indicates that co-sleeping is associated with an increased risk of cot death. This research has shown that there is an increased risk of cot SIDS when parents sleep with their baby in their bed.

On the other hand, there is also a very vocal body of parent advisors who advocate co-sleeping as the natural and safe place for a baby to sleep. This research shows that there is a greater chance of breastfeeding being well established with co-sleeping and that babies do well not being separated from their mother.

What is clear is that if you choose to co-sleep with your baby, you must do so safely.

Co-sleeping safely:

If you choose to co-sleep, follow these guidelines to limit the risk of SIDS

  • Your baby must sleep on her back.
  • Do not have a pillow near your baby.
  • Do not cover your baby with your duvet, or use an electric blanket or hot water bottle.
  • Place your baby on the outside of the bed next to you, not between you and your partner.
  • Have a sleep nest that creates a space for your baby in your bed.
  • Do not co-sleep if your baby is exposed to cigarette smoke during the day.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take any form of pain medication before bedtime. If you have had a Caesarean section and are taking painkillers it is wiser to let your baby sleep next to you in a crib.

The best option is probably to have babies under three months of age in your room, next to your bed in a co-sleeper cot . After four months, babies should be moved into their own room and will sleep better and longer in this way. 

So are there simple ways to ensure your baby sleeps safely?

The most critical aspects of a safe sleep zone are that there is no risk of overheating or suffocation. Follow these guidelines to decrease the risk of SIDS:

The mattress – Mattress must be firm and NO pillows or blankets or duvets should be in the cot at all for the first year.

Safe covering – Do not use blankets, loose bedding soft objects in your baby’s crib. Soft materials or objects such as pillows, quilts, comforters, or sheepskins should not be placed under or over your baby whilst sleeping. Loose blankets and pillows provide a risk for suffocation if they cover the baby’s face. Under 4 months, firmly swaddle your baby and after four months, the only safe cover for a baby is an infant sleeping bag. The American Association Pediatrics recommends the “use of baby sleep sacks that are designed to keep your baby warm without the possible hazard of head covering”. The best way to ensure your baby is warm and comfortable when asleep, whilst remaining safe is to use a 100% cotton sleeping bag. DO NOT use polyester or synthetic fabrics or sleeping bags filled with polyester as these fabrics and fillers do not allow regulation of body temperature.

Sleep position – Place your baby on his back or side to sleep. If you place your baby on his side, use a wedge to ensure he cannot roll onto his tummy. Sleeping on the tummy is the biggest single factor associated with cot deaths. The ‘back to sleep’ position is particularly important for the first 6 months.

Co-Sleeping – A separate but close sleeping environment is recommended. The risk of SIDS decreases when babies sleep in a separate cot/crib, in the same room as parents to allow for more convenient breastfeeding and contact. The risk of co-sleeping increases incrementally if you co-sleep on a sofa or after drinking any alcohol.

Room temperature – Avoid overheating your baby by keeping the bedroom temperature comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. 21° Celcuis or 70° Fahrenheit is the perfect temperature for your baby’s room.

Other techniques – As the research into SIDs continues to be carried out, we discover other factors that may enhance sleep safety.

  • Swaddling – Swaddle your young baby for sleeps to help him sleep well whilst on his back Sucking – Let your baby suck a dummy/ pacifier whilst sleeping
  • Breastfeeding – Breastfed babies show a lower incidence of SIDs.

Becoming a parent means that forever you will feel responsible for another human being. But feeling responsible does not mean that you should be overwhelmed with anxiety. Do the best you can by following Safe Sleep advice and then try to relax and enjoy being a parent.

By Meg Faure