October is SIDS Awareness Month, when we take the time to educate ourselves on the risks and preventative steps associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Thankfully, the risk of SIDS is low and there is much we can do to further lower that risk for an SUID or SIDS-related death.

SUID, SIDS and Fatal Sleep Incidents

SUID stands for Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, which occurs when a baby less than 1 year old passes without an obvious cause of death. SUID deaths can be attributed to either SIDS, a fatal sleep accident or an unknown cause.

Babies are at risk for SIDS between birth and 1 year of age, with the highest risk between 1 and 4 months. With SIDS, your child may seem perfectly healthy when they're put to sleep, but will never wake up. They die in their sleep, and after all other causes have been ruled out, a SIDS-related death is confirmed.

Fatal sleep accidents are the result of an accidental suffocation or strangulation during sleep, most often occurring in beds with other adults.

Who is at risk for SUIDs/SIDS?

Some factors can increase the risk of an SUIDs or SIDS-related death, though the overall risk is still minimal. If any of these risks apply to your situation, be sure to communicate them with your doctor.

  • Premature Births - A premature baby's brain isn't fully developed, so be sure to work with your doctor on delaying your birth as long as possible.

  • Tobacco Use/Alcohol and Drugs - Secondhand smoke can impair a baby's respiratory functions; illegal drugs and alcohol have been well-documented to increase SIDS and other infant death risks.

  • Inadequate Prenatal Care - Regular prenatal check-ups can result in doctors spotting potential SUIDs and SIDS-related risks.

  • Gender - Boys are, for unknown reasons, at higher risk. Three out of five SIDS cases happen to boys.

  • Respiratory Infections - Some SIDS-related deaths occur soon after a respiratory infection, leading researchers to believe there is a link between the two.

  • Unable to Breastfeed - Breastfeeding is crucial to developing a baby's immune system. Less breastfeeding could mean a higher risk of respiratory illnesses.

  • Having Multiples - Twins, triplets and other multiple births could mean premature babies or babies with lower birth weight, resulting in a higher risk of SIDS.

  • Skipping Immunizations - Immunizations are paramount to preventing illnesses and a SIDS risk for your baby.

Many of these risks are out of your control. However, it is always recommended that you consult with your doctor to identify and track potential risks for SUIDs and SIDS.

10 Ways We Can Lower the Risk of SUIDs and SIDS

  1. Put your baby on his back whenever he sleeps

    It's been recommended that babies sleep on their backs instead of their tummies since 1992, which has resulted in SIDS deaths decreasing by over half. This includes nap time as well. While "tummy time" is important for your baby's growth, sleeping on their stomach should always be avoided.

  2. Don't cover your baby's face or head during sleep

    Hats and blankets that cover your baby's face can prevent her from receiving the proper amount of oxygen during sleep. This can be very dangerous if she has, or has recently had, a stuffy nose or respiratory illness.

  3. Put your baby in a correct sleeping location

  4. There are many options these days for where to put your baby to sleep, but not all are the safest in preventing SUIDs or SIDS-related risks. Cribs, bassinets and co-sleepers are the safest options (especially when your baby is in the room with you). You should avoid your little one sleeping in a baby swing, in a hammock or even a couch.

  5. Avoid bed sharing

  6. The urge to share the bed with your baby can be strong since you get to snuggle and be close all night long. However, bed sharing is the number one risk for causing fatal sleep accidents.

    During sleep, blankets and pillows could inadvertently cover your baby's face and there is always the potential you may roll over on your baby accidentally. It is best for your baby to sleep in his own bed, especially during the first year.

  7. Use a firm mattress with a fitted sheet and no bumpers

    Your baby will be most safe when sleeping on a firm mattress (the firmness doesn't bother her!) with a tightly fitted sheet. Be sure to check that there are no gaps between the mattress and the crib railings for your baby to lodge herself in.

    Often, parents will add bumpers to their baby's sleeping situations believing them to benefit the baby. In reality, these bumpers add nothing except an additional suffocation or strangulation risk.

  8. Leave toys out of the crib

    Much like the bumpers, toys in a baby's crib serve zero purpose and instead pose a higher risk for SUIDs or a SIDS-related incident. Leave the toys out of the crib, even those attached to a pacifier.

  9. Consider a sleep sack over a blanket

    Since blankets pose an additional risk to your child, sleep sacks have become a popular alternative. It's like swaddling a baby with a blanket, but instead uses a wearable sack or one-piece sleeper without the potential of unraveling and posing a threat.

  10. Consider using a pacifier

    Studies have shown that using a pacifier at night decreases the risk of SIDS. However, don't use a pacifier attached to a toy, necklace or the baby's clothing.

    If the pacifier should fall out of your baby's mouth during sleep, there's no need to put it back in.

  11. Dress your baby properly while asleep

    Your baby's clothing and room temperature shouldn't overheat him during sleep. If your baby gets too hot, this can increase his metabolic rate and affect his breathing. A cool 68 degrees and proper clothing is best for sleeping babies.

  12. Make sure caregivers have been given correct instructions

    If your baby is staying with a relative, babysitter or daycare professional, be sure to go over the ground rules of sleep safety. If the caregiver isn't a parent or is a first-time grandparent, they may not have learned that babies are supposed to sleep on their backs now rather than their tummies.

Though SUIDs and SIDS-related deaths are rare, there will always be a need to educate parents on preventive measures to decrease the risk of fatalities. Share these tips with future parents and spread the awareness of SIDS prevention; it may save a baby's life.


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Chris Dooly is a freelance writer and teacher from the Washington, D.C. area. He lives with his fiancé and pet dachshund Han Solo in New York City. He is passionate about the arts, entertainment and politics.