Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year old. It remains unpredictable, despite years of research. It is the leading cause of death among babies between 1 month and 1 year old.
Most cases of SIDS are associated with sleep and babies who die of this syndrome show no signs of suffering. As SIDS doesn’t present specific symptoms, it can’t be diagnosed beforehand. It is often only diagnosed after all other possible causes of death have been ruled out.
Here’s everything you need to know to reduce the risk of it happening to your child:
1. Don’t overdress your baby
Cot deaths are more common during winter months. This could possibly be because babies are more likely to be overdressed or placed under heavy blankets, which may cause them to overheat. Research also found that overheating might increase the risk of SIDS in a baby suffering from a cold or infection. Parents and caregivers are therefore advised not to overdress their babies and to keep their infants’ rooms at a comfortable temperature (21°C).
2. Covering your baby’s head may increase the risk of SIDS
Babies are at an increased risk of SIDS if their heads are covered during sleep. Avoid using a blanket or other covering over your baby’s face as a sun or weather screen, or to block out distractions while your baby is sleeping. The blanket will cause a build-up of exhaled air around your baby’s face. This exhaled air doesn’t have enough oxygen, which can lead to SIDS or suffocation death.
3. Sleep baby on his back from birth, not on his tummy or side
In 2004, researchers discovered the most significant risk factor for SIDS was placing babies on their stomachs to sleep. Studies reported that 28 to 52% of babies who die of SIDS are found lying face down. Medical experts don’t fully understand the cause-effect relationship between stomach sleeping and cot death. It is, however, known that stomach sleeping increases apnoea – a condition in which breathing stops for more than 10 seconds during sleep – and that is more difficult for a baby to wake up while sleeping on his stomach. Infants are also more likely to overheat when they are sleeping on their tummies as stomach sleeping raises a baby’s temperature.
Won’t my baby choke on spit-up or vomit if he sleeps on his back?
Back sleeping is safest, as a baby doesn’t sleep as deeply on his back as on his stomach. Many parents are worried their little one will choke on spit-up or vomit if he is placed on his back during sleeping hours. There is no increased risk of choking for healthy babies who sleep on their backs. Any secretions will clear better when a baby is placed on his back. The windpipe lies on top of the oesophagus, so anything regurgitated from the oesophagus must work against gravity to be aspirated into the trachea.
4. Your baby needs a safe sleeping environment
Make sure your baby sleeps on a firm mattress covered with a fitted sheet. It has been found that infants are five times more likely to die of SIDS when they sleep on couches and soft mattresses, and the risk is 19 time higher if your baby sleeps on his stomach on a soft surface. Don’t cover your little one with a sheepskin or let him sleep on a pillow or waterbed, as these factors can lead to him re-breathing exhaled air.
5. Keep baby smoke free before and after birth
A baby born to a mother who smoked during pregnancy is three times more likely to die of SIDS. Second-hand tobacco smoke has a negative effect on your baby’s nervous system. It affects his brain stem, which is involved in the arousal of his heartbeat, breathing, sleeping and body movement control. Babies who die of SIDS will have a higher level of nicotine concentration in their lung tissue if they were exposed to smoke. Passive smoke in a household doubles the risk of SIDS.
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