What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

It is only natural to worry about the safety of your beautiful new baby, and to do everything you can to keep them safe. I’ve written before about struggling with anxiety during pregnancy, but when I read about SIDS, my anxiety was definitely kicked up a gear in the first few weeks after having delivered my daughter. I’m very medically minded and wanted to be armed with all the facts, but honestly, my friends will tell you that I’m not very good at dealing with things that are out of my control!

So, if you’re like me and want to know everything (to be prepared, obviously), here’s the low-down on SIDS.

SIDS used to be referred to as ‘Cot Death’, however this name was abandoned as it carried to connotations that babies would only die in their cots, and were safe everywhere else. SIDS usually occurs when a baby is sleeping, though can sometimes happen when the infant is awake.

SIDS is the unexplained and unexpected death of an infant who otherwise appears to be normal and healthy.

In the USA, around 3000 babies die from SIDS a year, In the UK around 200 babies die due to SIDS. While this may sound terrifying, the statistics mean that SIDS is quite rare (in 2017 there were 679,106 live births in the UK, and 3,853,472 in the USA).

Causes

The exact cause of SIDS is currently unknown, which I found the most troublesome thing when my monkey was young. There is always research being undertaken to try and determine the cause, such as the Lullaby Trust ,who have been funding research since 1971.

It has been proposed that SIDS occurs at a particular developmental stage, and most affects infants who are vulnerable to particular stresses. Important environmental factors to remember are smoke from tobacco, baby having an illness (however small), becoming tangled in their bedding, or being unable to breathe due to an airway obstruction. It is thought that these stresses can change how babies regulate their blood pressure, temperature and heart rate.

There is also an association between SIDS and co-sleeping.

Risk factors

Because not much is known about SIDS, it is difficult to say what puts a baby at more risk. However it is apparent that babies born prematurely or at a low birth weight are more susceptible. There is also a slightly higher occurrence in baby boys than baby girls.

Prevention

Unfortunately, SIDS can’t be completely prevented. However, a big part of tackling this issue is practicing safe sleep for your baby. Here are some key things to remember

  • Always put your baby to sleep on their back. Babies put to sleep on their stomach or sides are more at risk of choking, and young infants cannot turn themselves back over. Once your child is able to roll themselves, you do not need to worry.
  • Always put your baby to sleep in the feet to foot position. Place your baby in their cot or moses basket with their feet touching the end. This means that baby is unable to slip down under any blankets in their sleeping environment, and is less likely to have their face covered. This applies to all sleeping environments in which you are not holding them, i.e. a cot, moses basket or pram. Don’t let your baby sleep in a car seat, swing or stroller for a long period of time.
  • Keep baby’s sleeping environment clear. Don’t use cot bumpers, pillows, quilts or soft toys in baby’s bed.
  • Stop smoking. Do not smoke while pregnant or after baby is born, and do not allow anyone to smoke near yourself or your child. Research shows that 60% of SIDS deaths could have been prevented if the baby was not exposed to smoke.
  • Sleep in the same room as baby for the first 6 months to halve the chances of SIDS
  • Don’t let baby get too hot or too cold. Feel baby’s temperature by touching the stomach or back (don’t use their hands as a measure for their temperature as they are often cooler than the body). If baby is sweating or her stomach is very warm, remove a layer of blanket from them. The best sleeping temperature for a baby is 16-20 C.
  • Do not Co-Sleep if you or your partner has taken drugs, smoked or been drinking alcohol
  • Never sleep on a sofa or armchair with your baby.
  • Breastfeed as long as you can, or consider using a dummy (pacifier). This is a tricky one. Breastfeeding is thought to provide protection from infections which could raise a baby’s SIDS chances. I wasn’t able to breastfeed my daughter (cue mum guilt) so I settled for a dummy instead, which came in handy when my daughter had her surgery. Research shows that using a pacifier can reduce the risk of SIDS, though researchers are unsure why. So, if you’re feeling worried like I was, it could be worth a shot.

While this seems like a lot of overwhelming information, the best thing a parent can do is follow safe sleep advice, and try and enjoy the time with their new baby. If you have any concerns, speak to your GP or paediatrician right away.

In Emergencies

If you notice any of the following signs, call 999 / 911 immediately.

  • If your baby is struggling for breath
  • If your baby stops breathing or turns blue
  • If your baby is unconscious or seems unaware of what is going on around them
  • If your baby won’t wake up
  • If your baby has a seizure for the first time, even if they seem to fully recover.

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Paige Piper

Mum, musician, artist, professional sick kid.

One thought on “What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

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