Every parent’s fear when they bring their newborn baby home is the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). SIDS is a leading cause of death in infants under the age of one. It’s prevalent in the first few months of life, but when does SIDS risk drop? Most parents and caregivers feel a little more secure after a baby has passed the newborn stage, but when exactly is it considered safe?
What is SIDS?
SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant under the age of one. It usually happens when a baby is asleep, and there is no evidence of illness or injury. It’s essential to note that SIDS can occur in any infant, regardless of race, sex, or culture. However, some babies are more vulnerable than others. SIDS is a term used when a child dies unexpectedly, and a cause of death cannot be explained even after an autopsy or investigation is carried out.
Risk factors for SIDS
The exact cause of SIDS is unknown, and there is no foolproof way to prevent it. However, several factors that may increase a baby’s risk of SIDS.
In most cases, SIDS occurs during the first few months of life, with the peak incidence between one to four months—however, the risk gradually decrease as the baby grows older.
- Experts suggest breastfeeding can lower the risk of SIDS. Research has shown that babies who are exclusively breastfed for at least six months have a lower risk of SIDS than those who are formula-fed or fed a mix of breastmilk and formula.
- The reason why breastfeeding reduces the risk is not clear, but it is believed that breast milk provides antibodies and strengthens the baby’s immune system, making it hard for infections to attack.
Alcohol and drug use
Babies whose mothers used drugs or alcohol during pregnancy are at a higher risk of SIDS. Additionally, babies who are exposed to smoke are also at higher risk. It’s advisable for mothers to avoid drugs and alcohol during pregnancy and not expose their babies to smoke.
When does SIDS Risk drop?
As discussed earlier, SIDS is most prevalent in the first few months of life, with the peak incidence between one to four months—however, the risk gradually decreases as the baby grows older. The risk continues to decrease until the baby is around a year old, when it’s considered low.
The risk of SIDS drops significantly between four to six months old. In this age, the baby can now roll from front to back and sit upright with support, making it challenging for them to suffocate in their sleep. Experts suggest that a baby is safest when placed on their back to sleep until they are one year old.
The risk of SIDS continues to reduce as the baby grows older. From six months, the baby can sit up on their own, crawl, and pull themselves up, reducing the risk of suffocation from blankets or bumpers. It is essential to note that continued safe sleep practices, such as placing the baby on their back, are still essential after six months.
After one year
SIDS is relatively rare after one year. However, the use of safe sleep practices is still necessary to prevent other sleep-related deaths such as accidental suffocation or entrapment.
Preventive Measures for SIDS
There’s no way to guarantee that your newborn or infant will not be affected by SIDS, but there are a few things parents and caregivers can do to help reduce the risk of SIDS.
Safe sleep practices
- Always place the baby on their back to sleep.
- Put the baby to bed on a firm, flat surface, such as a safety-approved crib.
- Use a firm, tight-fitting mattress, covered in a fitted sheet, and avoid soft objects such as stuffed animals or blankets.
- Ensure the baby’s sleep surface is free of any hazards and is clear of loose items, such as electrical cords, that might cause trouble.
- Avoid anything which may restrict your baby’s breathing, such as a hood or a pillow.
Avoid second-hand smoke
Avoid exposing the baby to smoke. It’s essential to note that third-hand smoke, the residual nicotine and other tobacco-related toxins left on surfaces after smoking, is also harmful.
Breastfeed the baby
Breastfeeding provides the infant with many benefits, including a reduction in the risk of SIDS.
Regular medical check-ups
Ensure that you attend regular health clinics and get the recommended vaccines for your baby.
When to see a doctor
If your child has a fever, breathing difficulties, or isn’t feeding properly, seek medical attention immediately from a doctor or pediatrician. Also, keep an eye out for warning signs such as excessive coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea, as these could be signs of illness.
Although SIDS can be frightening for parents and caregivers, understanding the risk factors and taking preventive measures can help reduce the risk. It’s essential to follow safe sleep practices for infants and stick to them until the baby is around one year old. Most importantly, if you suspect something is not right, seek medical attention immediately.
Common Questions and Answers
- Q: Is it safe to put a blanket over the baby while sleeping?
- A: No, placing a blanket over the baby while sleeping can increase the risk of suffocation. It’s recommended to place the baby on their back to sleep and use a sleep sack or wearable blanket instead.
- Q: Can SIDS be prevented?
- A: SIDS cannot be prevented, but taking preventive measures can help reduce the risk. Follow safe sleep practices such as placing the baby on their back to sleep and avoid exposing the baby to smoke.
- Q: Does the baby’s sleeping environment increase the risk of SIDS?
- A: Yes, the baby’s sleep environment can increase the risk of SIDS. It’s advised to place the baby in a safety-approved crib with a firm, tight-fitting mattress covered in a fitted sheet. Avoid any soft objects such as blankets or stuffed animals in the infant’s sleeping area.
- Q: Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of SIDS?
- A: Yes, breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS, especially if the baby is exclusively breastfed for at least six months.
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/sids
- American Academy of Pediatrics. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Pediatrics. 2016; 138(5): e20162938.
- Lam B, Tsai S, Jiang P, et al. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome in the United States and Hong Kong Chinese: A case-control study. Medicine. 2018; 97(35): e12100.
- Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).https://www.cdc.gov/sids/index.htm