What You Need to Know About Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Sudden infant death syndrome occurs in infants under one year of age. One of the most important aspects to prevent it is to keep babies from sleeping on their stomachs, as there's an increased risk of suffocation.
What You Need to Know About Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Last update: 27 February, 2021

Sudden infant death is one of the biggest concerns for parents when having a baby. This syndrome consists of cardiac arrest in babies who were apparently healthy or had no known illness. This situation is often referred to as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or crib death.

These names are because it occurs in children under one year of age and usually happens while they’re sleeping in their crib. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of death between birth to the first year of life.

Why does it happen? We’ll you more about it below.

Why does sudden infant death occur?

Although it’s not clear exactly why it occurs, a Mayo Clinic publication points out that it appears to have to do with defects in the part of the baby’s brain that controls breathing and sleep arousal. Therefore, the risk factors would be certain conditions in the newborn.

For example, premature birth or low birth weight babies are much more at risk. This is because their organs aren’t fully mature and both breathing and heartbeat may fail. The same is true for babies who have a defect in the development of their nervous system.

A premature baby in an incubator.

Also, any previous respiratory infection can be a risk factor for sudden death. Many of them are not completely cured and subsequently lead to this syndrome. Also, other aspects such as the age and sex of the baby play a role.

It seems that the most critical moment is between 2 and 4 months of life. Likewise, males have a greater tendency to suffer from SIDS. At the same time, research suggests that certain maternal behaviors may also be a contributing factor, such as smoking or drug abuse.

What’s the relationship between sleeping position and sudden death?

The physical problems mentioned above, added to the sleeping position or the use of certain elements in the crib, such as pillows and blankets, can increase the risk of sudden infant death.

According to an article by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, this syndrome most often affects babies who sleep on their stomachs. The same is true for those who sleep on their sides and end up turning over during sleep.

This seems to be related to the fact that, being on the stomach, it’s harder for babies to breathe. It’s important to make sure that there’s nothing to prevent air from entering the baby’s airway properly.

It’s therefore recommended that babies sleep on their backs. Also, ideally, they should sleep in a crib in the same room as their parents. This increases the likelihood of being able to hear any strange noises and respond accordingly.

However, it’s not a good idea to share the bed with the child without marking an area or leaving it free of objects that may hinder the child’s breathing. At the same time, to prevent sudden infant death, it’s also important to prevent the baby from being too warm and from reaching a temperature that’s too high.

A newborn sleeping on her belly.

You may be interested in: The Symptoms of Regurgitation in Babies

What are the general recommendations for preventing SIDS?

In addition to placing the baby on its back at bedtime and controlling temperature, other measures can reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome.

The first recommendation is that the baby’s bed should be firm and free of objects, as pillows or blankets also pose a risk of suffocation.

In addition to this advice, a statement from National Health Services lists several things that can be done to help prevent this syndrome. It includes the following:

  • Position the baby with their feet touching the end of the crib or cradle.
  • Keep the baby’s head uncovered: The blanket should not be over the baby’s shoulders.
  • Let the baby sleep in the same room as their parents during the first 6 months of life.
  • Breastfeed, if possible.

At the same time, it’s very important to avoid smoking, both during pregnancy or near the child. The same applies to any other type of drug. It should be noted that alcohol, although it’s a legal substance, is also very harmful during pregnancy.

However, the most important thing you can do is visit your pediatrician periodically. This specialist will be in charge of performing routine examinations to know how the baby’s body’s doing.

Also, they’ll give parents a series of simple indications to avoid sudden infant death as much as possible.

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