The mere thought of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) often sends chills down new parents' spines and spurs constant checks at their babies' bedsides. But, thankfully, this devastating syndrome is usually preventable. In fact, the recommendation to only place infants to sleep on their backs is really resonating with parents — and caregivers — as the number of babies dying of SIDS continues to drop worldwide.
Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) started the "Back to Sleep" campaign in the early 1990s, the occurrence of SIDS in the United States has dropped by more than 50%. But SIDS (the sudden and unexplained death of an infant) remains the leading cause of death in babies 1 month to 1 year old, and still claims the lives of about 2,500 U.S. infants each year, usually between 2 and 4 months old.
The researchers from the University of Auckland (in New Zealand) have good news, though — they say SIDS rates there have dropped 63% from 1993 to 2004. And, according to a survey mailed to moms and dads, nearly three quarters of parents were placing their babies to sleep on their backs in 2005, versus not even a quarter in 1992.
The study's researchers say the continued drop in SIDS rates is likely because more parents are deciding not only to nix belly sleeping but are realizing that side sleeping is a no-no, too. For a long time, side sleeping was considered an acceptable alternative. But now doctors know that putting babies to sleep on their sides also puts them in danger of SIDS because of the risk that they'll roll onto their bellies.
What This Means to You
To help reduce the risk of SIDS for babies of all ages, make sure everyone who takes care of your little one — in and out of your home — follows these extremely important safety precautions:
Unless your doctor says otherwise, always place your baby to sleep on the back — never on the belly or the side — on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet (never on a pillow, waterbed, sheepskin, or other soft surface).
Never put your baby to bed with blankets, comforters, quilts, pillows, or plush toys.
Don't put your baby to sleep in your bed — instead, keep the crib or bassinet in the room where you're sleeping. You can bring your infant to your bed for nursing or comforting, but return your baby to the crib or bassinet to sleep.
Never smoke or let anyone else smoke around your baby both during pregnancy and after your baby is born.
Consider putting your baby to sleep sucking on a pacifier.
Breastfeed, if possible.
Keep the room temperature comfortable and don't overbundle your baby.
Get early and regular prenatal care during your pregnancy and make sure your baby gets regular checkups throughout infancy.
Although it's essential to never put babies to sleep on their bellies, supervised "tummy time" while awake keeps babies from developing a flat head (called positional plagiocephaly). Plus, tummy time is key to helping infants develop the skills they need to lift their heads, roll over, sit up, and eventually crawl.
When babies start rolling over on their own, usually around 4 to 7 months, they may change their position when sleeping. At this point, there's no need to frantically keep flipping your snoozing baby back onto the back — it's perfectly normal and OK for older infants to roll onto their sides or bellies by themselves as they sleep.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2007
Source: "The Continuing Decline in SIDS Mortality," Archives of Disease in Childhood, July 2007.