SIDS: Causes and Tips

By Jenna Armstrong

June 11, 2020

My name is Jenna and I am am The Mama Coach in Winnipeg, MB. I am a Registered Nurse, lactation counselor, sleep coach, prenatal educator, CPR instructor, and a mom of 3 little ones! I am here to help!

SIDS is the acronym for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS occurs when a baby dies suddenly while sleeping, there are no warning signs or clear reason. It occurs in little ones 1 year or younger but is most common between 2-4 months of age. SIDS is a scary and confusing syndrome, basically every new parents’ nightmare.

The causes for SIDS are a little unknown but there does seem to be research that supports SIDS being associated with defects in a portion of an infant’s brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep. SIDS tends to be more common in premature babies as their little bodies are immature, so systems like the brain, heart, and lungs are a little undeveloped putting them at a higher risk.

There is no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS but there are things you can do to minimize the risk. Be careful to not overheat your baby. The ideal temperature for a baby’s room is appropriately 20 degrees Celsius. You want to dress your baby in a similar way as yourself, what you are comfortable in they should be as well. In general, dress your baby in no more than one extra layer than you would wear. If you swaddle your baby be careful not to overheat. You also want to ensure the swaddle is not pulled to tight across the crest where it might impact the ability of the chest to rise up and down freely for your little one to breath easily. As long as you can slide one finger underneath the swaddle on top of your baby’s chest the tightness is okay. On the contrary, you also don’t want the swaddle to be to lose as lose material poses the risk for suffocation. Swaddling your baby is safe as long as the above techniques are followed but once a baby is able to roll, swaddling is not longer recommended.

Make sure you are putting your little one down to sleep on their back. The “back to sleep” campaign was launched in the United States in 1994. The idea behind this campaign was to draw attention to the risk for SIDS and it has done just that! Rates have decreased significantly as parents now know babies sleeping on their backs is the ideal sleep position for safe sleep and is recommended to continue as the safest sleep position for the first year of life. In combination to being on their backs, infants need to be on a firm flat surface in your room. Canadian guidelines recommend room sharing with your new baby up until 6 months of age and the American guidelines suggest room sharing for their first year of life. Infants sleep space should not contain soft objects, toys, pillows, or loose bedding. Basically, just think if a baby presses their face against and it interferes with breathing it is dangerous and could be a contributing factor in SIDS. Sleep positioners are not recommended, the fact is they do not prevent or reduce the risk for SIDS and research points out if anything they may increase the risk for suffocation that can lead to death.

At the Mama Coach, we suggest it is safe to introduce one baby friendly lovie once your little one is able to roll both front to back and back to front. We suggest a lovie as a tool for helping develop independent sleep skills, as your little one builds an attachment to it and find comfort with it.

Reduce the risk
Studies find there are a few things that can be done to reduce the risk of SIDS. Breastfeeding and immunizing your baby are thought to provide protection to your little one against SIDS, avoid exposing your little one to second hand smoke and a soother is recommended to reduce the risk for SIDS. Soothers will keep a baby’s tongue down as they suck on it and the sucking motion is thought to keep little ones in lighter stages of sleep allowing them to arouse from sleep easier. For a mom who is breastfeeding, it is best to introduce a soother after breastfeeding and milk supply are well established.

During prenatal classes, I often get asked the question about should I buy a SIDS monitor, basically a baby monitor that tracks the breathing and heart rate of a sleeping infant. This is yet another hot topic of parenthood! I always say it is a parenting decision, but I personally don’t feel there is a need for these monitors. Research does not support that these monitors are useful in the reduction of SIDS in healthy infants. There seems to be a lot inaccuracy and false alarms reported with these monitors, which in turn increase stress and anxiety for new parents. The safe sleep strategies mentioned above do have research that supports that those measures have decreased the incidence of SIDS and should be the first choice in minimizing the risk of SIDS in your infant.

If you are a soon to be parent or a new parent check out our Newborn Course to learn about all things baby and parenthood or reach out to The Mama Coach in your area, as always anyone of us are happy to help.

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