Does “Back to Sleep” Really Prevent SIDS? Here’s the Scoop!

pregnant belly and crib

What you need to know to keep your baby safe and prevent SIDS.

A new parent’s number one concern is keeping their baby safe. Babies spend the majority of their early weeks asleep, so naturally parents spend a majority of their time worrying and wondering if their baby is safely sleeping.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is when an infant dies in their sleep without any warning or obvious reason. No one knows why this happens. While we can’t eliminate the risk completely, we can reduce the risk significantly.

sleeping swaddled baby

“Since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its safe sleep recommendations in 1992 and launched its “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994, the SIDS rate has dropped more than 60%.” This is encouraging news and means there are clear steps we can take to keep our newborns safer!

Why is it safer for a baby to sleep on their back?

Studies at The National Institutes of Health suggest that stomach sleeping may increase SIDS risk through a variety of mechanisms, including:

  • Increasing the probability that the baby re-breathes his or her own exhaled breath, leading to carbon dioxide buildup and low oxygen levels
  • Causing upper airway obstruction
  • Interfering with body heat dissipation, leading to overheating

Here are seven things you can do to help keep your baby safe.

1. Put your baby to sleep on their back. Every time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all babies, until they reach their first birthday, be put to sleep on their backs to help prevent SIDS. This includes for naps and nighttime sleeping. If a baby is developmentally old enough to roll onto their belly and back again, then you can let them do so.

2. Make sure the sleep surface is firm and flat.

A firm crib, bassinet or Pack-n-Play mattress are all safe options. Don’t cover your baby with a blanket. Instead, keep them comfortable with light layers of onesies or pajamas. Empty the crib of all stuffed animals, bumpers, pillows and other loose items which could interfere with your baby’s airways. If your baby falls asleep in their car seat, take them out upon arrival and lay them flat when you can.

3. Don’t smoke or let others smoke around your baby. Don’t do drugs or drink alcohol, especially if breastfeeding.

The risk of SIDS increases if you do.

4. Keep your baby in your room for the first 6 months to a year.

The AAP recommends that babies sleep in their own safe sleeping area in their parents’ room. However, bed sharing and co-sleeping are practices done successfully here and in other cultures around the world. (The AAP does not recommend it). This can be a controversial topic. For more information about co-sleeping safely, check out Kelly Mom.

While room sharing and safely co-sleeping reduce the risk for SIDS, these practices are not ideal for some families. Harvard Medical School says, “… if room sharing means that parents aren’t getting any sleep because they are woken by every baby whimper and squeak, that’s not good for anybody — and if the parents’ relationship is suffering significantly because they don’t feel that they can or should be intimate near the baby, that’s not good for anybody either.” Parents need to know all the facts and then make an informed decision that’s right for their family.

5. Breastfeeding and pacifier use.

Some believe that when a baby is asleep while sucking a pacifier, they’re prevented from falling into a deep sleep state. This works in their favor if they have to awaken themselves in an emergency. Breastfed babies tend to feed more often and spend more time close to their mother. But there is no definitive answer as to why these practices may reduce the risk for SIDS.(If you’re breastfeeding, think about waiting 3-4 weeks until the practice is more established, before introducing a pacifier. If your baby is uninterested in the pacifier, try reintroducing it at a later time to see if there is renewed interest. Never force it.)

6. Keep the room temperature at a comfortable level.

Overheating increases the risk for SIDS. So, instead of raising the heat, add a layer of clothes or a sleep sack to your little one to keep them comfortable.

7. Skin-to-skin.

Skin-to-skin contact releases hormones that relieve stress and stabilize baby’s temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and blood sugar. So, go ahead and hold that baby close.

When others are caring for your baby – whether a grandparent, friend or babysitter – make sure they know which practices are important to you and will follow your lead, so both you and your baby can rest easy and help prevent SIDS.

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