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Baby in Bed

It’s September - the days are getting shorter, the breezes a little cooler, and typically more babies are born this month than any other.  September is also designated Baby Safety Month, so let’s review safe sleep habits for your baby.

First some good news: Since 1994, when the NIH launched the Safe to Sleep Public Health Campaign, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) rates have declined by 50%. However, SIDS remains the leading cause of death among U.S. infants aged 1 month to one year.  But in recent years, the decline in SIDS seems stalled - 1 out of every 2000 babies still die from SIDS. So it’s a good time to review the Safe to Sleep recommendations.

Let’s start with some basic information:

SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year of age. Usually the death occurs during a period of sleep. Rare in the first month of life, the highest incidence occurs when babies are between 2 and 4 months old. When other causes of death are ruled out, such as heart or metabolic defects, the unexpected death is considered a case of SIDS.

What are the risk factors for SIDS?

Although scientists haven’t settled on a definitive cause for SIDS, they have identified factors that increase the risk of SIDS. Here are the most common:

  • Environmental factors: Maternal smoking has been identified as one of the largest risk factors for SIDS. Researchers say smoking tobacco while pregnant may result in a rewiring of the unborn baby’s brain in areas important for breathing and arousal. In addition, sleeping in the same bed with a parent can lead to a fivefold increase in the risk of SIDS in infants younger than three months. Overheating, sleeping on the stomach facedown, and sleeping with loose bedding also add to the risk.
  • A physical abnormality:  Many SIDS cases are associated with a defect in the brainstem, the area of the brain that controls breathing and arousal.  Low birth weight or respiratory problems can also increase risk.
  • Other risk factors: Boys have a higher risk than girls. Sadly, babies with a family history of SIDS also are at greater risk, suggesting a genetic component.

Safe sleep tips: how to lower your baby’s risk of SIDS

  • Do not let your baby overheat during sleep. Our core body temperature must dip in order for us to fall asleep; the same applies to infants, so don't overdress your baby for bedtime. Of course, you don't want her to be too cold either. Aim for a room temperature of about 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and dress your baby in a single layer of clothing topped by a sleep sack.
  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night. The back sleep position is the safest whenever you lay him in the crib. Once babies can roll over, it’s okay to let them sleep on their tummies.
  • Place your baby on a firm sleep surface, such as on a safety-approved crib mattress, covered by a fitted sheet; remove soft objects, toys, and loose bedding.  Those adorable quilt and bumper sets may look tempting, but they can be dangerous for new babies.  Don’t use pillows, blankets, quilts, sheepskins, or pillow-like crib bumpers in your baby’s sleep area, and keep all objects away from your baby’s face. If you are concerned your baby is not warm enough, consider using a sleep sack.
  • Do not allow smoking around your baby. It’s better not to smoke before or after the birth of your baby. It’s also up to you to ask others not to smoke around your baby.
  • Keep your baby’s sleep area close to, but separate from, where you and others sleep. Your baby should not sleep in a bed or on a couch or an upholstered chair. And babies should never sleep with adults or other children. It’s fine to let your baby sleep in your room for convenience, especially right after birth. But if you bring your baby into bed with you to breastfeed during the night, put him back in a bassinet, crib, cradle, or a bedside co-sleeper (infant bed that attaches to an adult bed) once the feeding is over.
  • Discuss these safe sleep tips with your baby’s care givers. It’s important that you ask everyone who spends time with your baby to follow these safe sleep tips.
Rebecca Kempton, MD

After graduating with a B.A. in Psychology from Dartmouth and an M.D. from Cornell Medical School, Rebecca Kempton worked for several years as a medical director for healthcare technology and pharmaceutical companies before becoming certified as an infant and toddler sleep consultant and starting her own business, Baby Sleep Pro. With her three children, aged five and under, along with dozens of clients nationwide, Rebecca has honed her sleep coaching skills.