The death of a child is a particularly excruciating torment, and losing a baby for no apparent medical reason makes the heartache that much more wrenching.
Today, more than 3,500 infants in America under the age of 1 are lost each year to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – the cause of death when babies die suddenly, silently and unexpectedly, and for which no other explainable cause of death can be determined.
“Since 1969, when SIDS was first recognized as a distinct medical condition, pediatricians and other medical researchers have been aggressively studying the phenomenon to try and prevent further deaths,” said Lauren Youell, MD, at Northern Pediatrics, a department of Northern Hospital of Surry County. During the past four decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued and updated safe-sleep guidelines to help parents understand and avoid risks associated with SIDS.
Those educational efforts, along with an effective response by parents, have resulted in a significant decline of SIDS deaths in the United States. The Academy also launched a vigorous “Back to Sleep” national campaign in 1994 to further improve on that progress.
“We’ve been able to identify a number of specific preventive measures that parents can take to reduce the risk of SIDS for their babies,” said Dr. Youell, who has practiced in Mount Airy for the past six years. “The following safe-sleeping tips should be used by parents and anyone else who has been entrusted with the care of your baby,” said Youell.
Put your baby on his back
Always lay your baby on his (or her) back each time you put him down to sleep – even for brief naps. A baby’s risk of SIDS is greater if he sleeps on his side or stomach. By the time your baby learns to roll over by himself (at about six months), it’s all right if he chooses to no longer remain on his back.
Use a flat surface only
Lay your baby on a flat surface such as a firm mattress or crib surface. Do not use or leave blankets, quilts, pillows, or stuffed toys in the crib. Also, bumper pads should not be used. According to the AAP, there is no evidence that bumper pads prevent injuries, but they do pose a potential risk for suffocation, strangulation or entrapment.
Same room, different beds
Keep your child’s crib in the same room as your own, close to your bed. The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that a “same room; separate beds” sleeping environment can halve the risk of SIDS.
Smoking can increase the risk of SIDS – both during pregnancy and after the birth of your infant. Do not smoke around your baby … and do not let others do so, either.
Breastfeed as long as possible
Breastfeeding has been found to lower the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent – so pediatricians encourage moms to breastfeed as long as possible. Some experts believe that breast milk may protect infants from infections that could increase their risk of SIDS.
Use a pacifier
Giving your baby a pacifier at bedtime seems to have a “protective effect” against SIDS – although researchers aren’t yet sure why that is so.
Immunize your baby
Research has shown that parents can reduce their baby’s risk of SIDS by 50 percent by making sure their baby has been vaccinated in accordance with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The pediatric community remains committed to investigating the causes of SIDS so we may find a cure for this profoundly devastating condition,” says Dr. Youell. “However, until that goal is reached, we will continue to share our findings and recommendations with parents so that effective preventive measures can be taken to reduce its incidence.”
Dr. Youell emphasizes that parents should always feel comfortable calling their baby’s pediatrician if they have any issues – especially early on. “The first few days, weeks and months of a newborn’s life are sometimes the most stressful for parents – especially first-time moms – and we encourage parents to call us with any questions or concerns they may have,” she says. “Remember: there’s no such thing as a ‘stupid question’ – especially when it relates to your baby’s health – and we pediatricians are happy and eager to assist new moms and dads as they learn to identify and meet their baby’s physical and emotional needs.”