There is a combination of factors that are thought to contribute to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Some of these factors, such as premature birth or low birth weight, cannot be changed but other environmental factors can be altered to help prevent SIDS. These general factors include the sleeping position, sleeping environment, and care of the infant.
The sleeping position of the infant is one of the most important factors in the prevention of SIDS. Sleeping on the back in a supine position is believed to be the best sleeping position and has been linked to a reduction in the risk of SIDS. While sleeping on the back tends to lead to lighter sleep for the infant, this is not thought to be harmful and the benefits outweigh the negative factors.
Many professional health organizations, including the America Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, recommend placing infants to sleep on their back. Since the implementation of public health campaigns about infant sleep positions, there has been a significant drop in the incidence of SIDS.
The bedding and sleeping environment is an important factor in the prevention of SIDS. As soft bedding and toys could pose a potential choking hazard for children while they sleep, they should be avoided. Things that should be avoided include:
- Extremely soft mattresses
- Sleep positioners
- Crib bumpers
- Stuffed toys
Instead, it is recommended to dress the infant warmly with minimal objects within the crib. It is unclear if swaddling (tight wrapping in a blanket to restrict movement of the infant) helps to prevent SIDS.
Tobacco smoke is associated with an increased risk of SIDS and, for this reason, it is recommended to avoid smoking near the infant or room where they sleep.
There are several factors linked to the care of the infant that can assist in preventing SIDS.
Firstly, it is recommended that the infant sleep in the same room as the parents. This helps to ensure that parents are nearby and are able to hear the infant during the night if they move or make noises. In this way, they can wake up and respond to the infant during the night, if need.
Infants who are breastfed are also less likely to be affected by SIDS. The exact reason for this is unknown, although speculations have been made about the involvement of the mother and awareness of the child throughout the night.
Using a pacifier has been linked to a reduced risk of SIDS, although the reason for this is not clear. Additionally, making sure that infant‘s immunization schedule, particularly diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, is up-to-date appears to help prevent SIDS.
There is no sufficient evidence to link the use of electronic baby monitors to the incidence of SIDS. Although many parents claim that these monitors are a great help in staying in tune with their infant’s movements, sleeping in the same room as the infant is considered to be a superior method to prevent SIDS.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc