There’s no way to sugar coat it: SIDS is truly is a parent’s worst nightmare.
I remember worrying to the point where I woke up several times a night to check on my son while he was sleeping. I was exhausting myself, and finally I had to sit down and come to terms with my fear. It is scary, but I realized I was doing everything I could to create a safe environment so the rest was out of my hands. I had to let it go.
My advice to parents is to do the same. Take the steps that we know can help prevent this terrible tragedy, and then get on with your life and enjoy your time with your new baby instead of being consumed by fear.
What is SIDS?
SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy infant (usually between 1 and 6 months) during sleep with no medical explanation. SIDS is rare, so when fear is taking over, remind yourself of this fact. Approximately 2500 infants die of SIDS every year in the US, but keep in mind that there are over four million babies born in the US in a year. Death rates have dropped by almost half since the Back to Sleep Campaign was launched in 1994 to inform parents of the importance of infants sleeping on their backs.
Many risk factors have been pinpointed, and fortunately there are things you can do to significantly reduce the chances of SIDS.
Have a healthy pregnancy. One of the risks can be premature birth and low birth weight, and while these are not always preventable, eating a healthy diet and getting good prenatal care can help.
Don’t allow smoking around your baby. One of the most significant risk factors for SIDS is exposure to cigarette smoke both before and after birth. Studies have shown that when babies breathe cigarette smoke, their risk of SIDS doubles.
Put your baby to sleep on his back. This is extremely important, as researchers have discovered that this cuts the risk by almost 50%.
Breastfeed your baby if you can. Although researchers aren’t sure why, SIDS rates tend to be lower in breastfed babies.
Provide a safe sleeping environment. Avoid putting your baby to sleep on soft surfaces he can sink into such as beanbags, soft bedding, or couches.
Does co-sleeping increase the risk?
There has been a lot of controversy about whether babies who sleep in bed with their parents are at greater risk of SIDS. Experts are divided on the subject, with some claiming the risk is up to five times higher with co-sleeping, and others claiming the opposite is true, and that in fact babies are safer sleeping with their parents.
After co-sleeping with my baby for the first four months of his life, I believe the safest and best sleeping area for your baby is in his or her own crib or bassinet. I believe this is best in order to encourage great sleep skills, set up healthy sleeping habits, and for baby to get the best night’s sleep. When I made the transition from co-sleeping to having my baby in his own separate, but nearby bed, he slept better immediately. I realized that much of his night-waking was because he was constantly disturbed by me moving around. I also slept better. Studies show that all humans sleep better and go into deeper sleep when they are alone in a bed.
In truth, so many parents reach out to me complaining that they are stressed and exhausted from co-sleeping, but that they feel obligated to do it because they have been taught that it is the only way to practice good attachment skills. You don’t have to suffer. Your relationship with your baby will become even more loving and close once you are not sleep deprived. Your baby will be happier and less cranky every day following a night of great sleep! Sleep works wonders for parents and children.
If you do plan to co-sleep, please make sure you do it properly. Avoid having blankets and soft pillows around your baby and make sure you never sleep with your baby when you’ve been using drugs or alcohol. There are many resources and groups that encourage safe co-sleeping, so reach out and see how other parents are doing it, and stay safe.
Take these preventative steps, and try to keep in mind that SIDS is very rare, so you can relax, enjoy parenthood and get some worry-free sleep at night!
Kim Rogers, M.A., is a certified infant and child sleep consultant. She has additional training in infant mental health from the hospital for sick children and maternal mental health from postpartum support international. Kim works with families in a one-on-one, highly supportive way to help them get the sleep they need.