25 percent of parents make an extremely dangerous mistake: They place their baby in sleep positions that greatly increase risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns in new safe sleep guidelines released on October 18. Some parents still don’t know that babies who sleep on their belly or side are up to 13 times more likely to die from SIDS than those who sleep on their back. Others harbor misconceptions about the best ways to protect their kids from SIDS.
Rates of SIDS (also known as crib death) have dropped by more than 50 percent since the AAP launched its “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994, but tragically, the disorder remains the leading killer of babies between the ages of 28 days and one year. Another frightening fact: Rates of sleep-related infant deaths from other causes, including suffocation and entrapment, have actually gone up since 2005. In the new guidelines, the AAP has expanded its recommendations from focusing solely on SIDS prevention to creating a safe sleep environment to reduce risk for all sleep-related perils. These 10 precautions could save your baby’s life.
1. Sleeping on The Belly or Side is Not Safe.
A common reason why parents ignore “back to sleep” warnings is the mistaken belief that babies might choke or aspirate spit-up in the supine (back) position. In reality, when babies gag or cough during sleep, it’s a normal, protective reflex to clear the airway. Multiple studies in different countries show no increase in aspiration since the switch to supine sleeping.
2. It’s Not Necessary to Reposition Your Baby.
Parents often worry about what to do once their baby learns to roll over, which usually occurs at 4 to 6 months of age. The AAP says that after initially placing your baby on her back, it’s OK to let her sleep in whatever position she assumes, since it would disrupt your baby’s rest—and yours—to get up during the night and reposition her. Risk for SIDS drops after 4 months.
3. Use a Firm Crib Mattress.
A firm sleep surface protects against SIDS and suffocation. The AAP recommends using a new crib or bassinet that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and ASTM International, since older cribs may have been recalled or have broken or missing parts, endangering your baby.
4. Never Put Objects in the Crib.
Loose bedding (including sheets, comforters, and sheepskins), soft objects, such as pillows and toys, and bumper pads can be hazardous. Instead, cover the mattress with a fitted sheet and use a nightgown or pajamas—not a quilt—to keep your baby warm.
5. Sleep Near Your Baby.
Room-sharing without bed-sharing lowers SIDS risk by up to 50 percent, the AAP reports. The guidelines recommend again use of devices that purport to sharing an adult bed with a baby “safe,” such as in-bed co-sleepers. While it’s fine to bring your baby into your bed for feeding or comforting, he should always be returned to the crib when you’re ready to go back to sleep.
6. Move Your Baby if She Falls Asleep in a Sitting Device.
Move your baby to a crib or flat surface as soon as practical. It’s particularly risky for babies younger than four months to sleep in sitting devices, including swings and strollers, because they might get into positions that obstruct the airway.
7. Breastfeeding is Best.
Breastfeeding lowers SIDS risk. The AAP encourages exclusive breastfeeding for six months, if possible. However, breastfeeding for any duration is more protective against SIDS than no breastfeeding.
8. Consider a Pacifier.
While the reasons are still unclear, studies have found that using a pacifier helps protect against SIDS—even if the pacifier falls out of the baby’s mouth when she’s asleep.
9. Avoid Overheating.
Some studies have linked SIDS risk with overheating. It’s best to avoid bundling your baby up: Dress her in no more than one additional layer of clothing than you’d wear.
10. Provide Supervised “Tummy Time.”
Parents worry that sleeping in the supine position will flatten the back of their baby’s head. To minimize this risk, when your baby is awake, place him on his tummy daily. This position also promotes healthy motor and muscle development.