How To Prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS

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Updated on Jan 17, 2024 · 5 mins read

When you have a baby, you will find yourself in endless conversations talking about your baby’s sleep. Now everyone has an opinion when it comes to doing things the ‘right’ way. But one thing you can be sure of, is that babies will sleep A  LOT in the early months.

This may be in short stints for some but overall they will spend a lot of time in their sleeping environment. So, with this is mind, it is important to ensure that whatever that sleeping environment is, is that it is SAFE.

You might have heard of SIDS, but you might not understand what it is exactly, and what it truly means to ensure your baby has a safe sleeping environment, so here’s what you need to know.

What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is when no cause of death can be determined for a baby under the age of 1 year old. This is often when a baby is apparently well, but has died suddenly. SIDS is diagnosed once all recognisable causes of infant death have been ruled out – including infection, trauma or a condition related to the heart, lungs, or central nervous system. SIDS usually happens after a period of sleep, whether that be during the day or night. Babies who die of SIDS are thought to have problems in the way they respond to environmental stresses, and how they regulate their heart rate, breathing and temperature.

When is your baby at the highest risk of SIDS?

Most deaths happen during the first 3 months of a baby’s life but is quite rare during the first month. After 4 months of age, the risk then declines as your baby develops. Infants that are born prematurely or with a low birth weight are at greater risk, and SIDS is more common in baby boys. Most unexpected deaths occur whilst the baby is asleep in their cot at night.

Is co-sleeping safe?

There is much debate about this topic, as there are many benefits to co-sleeping with your baby however, Red Nose states that sharing the bed with your baby can increase their risk of SIDS. This is largely due to the fact that it opens up the opportunity for ‘accidents’ to occur i.e rolling on top of your baby when in a deep sleep.

They suggest that the safest place to sleep your baby is in their own sleeping place, in the same room as an adult caregiver. It is recommended that a baby sleeps in a cot next to the parent’s bed for the first 6 to 12 months of life.

Here are a few shared sleep surfaces that are considered high risk for SIDS:

  • Sofa sharing
  • Sleeping baby on the parent’s chest
  • Adult sleep environments

The risk of SIDS is significantly increased in the following circumstances:

  • When babies are less than 3 months of age
  • When babies are born preterm
  • When the baby shares the sleep surface with a smoker
  • When the parent is under the influence of alcohol
  • When the parent is overly tired, and therefore difficult to wake
  • When the parent is obese
  • When there is an adult doove or pillows that may suffocate the baby
  • When the baby can fall out of bed and become trapped between the wall and bed frame, or be rolled onto
  • When the baby is placed down for sleep on a surface that is not their cot, unsupervised

How to keep your baby safe during sleep, and reduce the risk of SIDS

Although the cause of SIDS is not fully understood, you can certainly reduce the risk. Here are some things to consider when putting your baby to sleep:

  • Place your baby on their back to sleep, in a cot
  • Keep your baby in the room with you for the first 6 to 12 months
  • Do not smoke when your baby is present
  • Avoid sharing the same sleeping surface as your baby when they are under 4 months of age
  • Avoid falling asleep with your baby on a sofa or an armchair
  • Do not let your baby get too hot
  • Keep your baby’s head uncovered, their blanket should be tucked in no higher than their shoulders

Click here for more on setting up a safe sleep space for your baby.

A common question that is asked, is what happens if your baby vomits whilst they are sleeping on their back. Healthy babies sleeping on their back are actually less likely to choke on vomit than tummy-sleeping infants. The only time babies shouldn’t sleep on their back is when they have rare medical conditions that might mean they have to sleep on their side, or on their tummy. This should only be done when advised by a medical professional.

Finding the right cot for your baby

Every country has their own safety standards for baby products and cots, so it’s important to look into these prior to purchasing. All new and second-hand cots sold in Australia must meet the Australian/New Zealand standard for cots and will carry a label to say so. If you cannot find the label, do not risk buying the cot.

If you are using a second-hand cot in particular, check for the following problems:

  • Wobbly or broken parts that make the cot less stable
  • Bars a baby could get caught between
  • Knobs, corner posts or exposed bolts that could hook onto a baby’s clothing, especially around the neck
  • Too much space between the mattress and cot edge
  • Sharp catches or holes in the wood that can hurt curious fingers
  • Old paint that might contain poisonous lead

Where to get more information about SIDS

Red Nose is a local charity that aims to eradicate Sudden Infant Death Syndrome through world-class research and advocacy. The organisation has grown from small volunteer self-help roots into a vital and vibrant organisation that supports bereaved families and educates parents, health professionals and the community throughout Australia.

For more information on SIDS, or how you can help educate yourself and your community, visit the Red Nose website.

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