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How to prevent sudden infant death syndrome?

Despite the known risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome, there is no certain way to prevent it. However, putting an infant to sleep on his back on a firm mattress prevents many but not all cases. The number of sudden infant death syndrome deaths has decreased as more parents have put their infants to sleep on their back. Parents should also

remove pillows, bumper guards, and toys that could block an infant's breathing. Protecting the infant from overheating may also help but is not proven. Preventing infants from breathing second-hand cigarette smoke may help and clearly has other health benefits. Early and regular prenatal care can help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Proper nutrition, no smoking or drug or alcohol use by the mother, and frequent medical check-ups beginning early in pregnancy might help prevent a baby from developing an abnormality that could put him/her at risk for sudden death. Breast-feeding may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Although it's not entirely clear why breast-feeding seems to protect babies against sudden infant death syndrome, some researchers speculate that breast milk may reduce infections in young infants. These measures may also reduce the chance of having a premature or low birthweight baby, which also increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome is higher for babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy.

Parents and other caregivers should put babies to sleep on their backs as opposed to on their stomachs. Studies have shown that placing babies on their backs to sleep has reduced the number of sudden infant death syndrome cases by as much as a half in countries where babies had traditionally slept on their stomachs. Although babies placed on their sides to sleep have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome than those placed on their stomachs, the back sleep position is the best position for babies from 1 month to 1 year. Babies positioned on their sides to sleep should be placed with their lower arm forward to help prevent them from rolling onto their stomachs.

Although many parents are afraid babies will choke on spit-up or vomit if placed on their backs, studies have not found any evidence of increased risk of choking or other problems. In some instances, physicians may recommend that babies be placed on their stomachs to sleep if they have disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux or certain upper airway disorders, which make them more likely to have choking or breathing problems while lying on their backs. A certain amount of tummy time while the infant is awake and being observed is recommended for motor development of the shoulders. In addition, awake time on the stomach may help prevent flat spots from developing on the back of the baby's head. Such physical signs are almost always temporary and will disappear soon after the baby begins to sit up.

Use a firm mattress, rather than a water bed or beanbag. Avoid placing your baby on thick, fluffy padding, such as lambskin or a thick quilt. These may interfere with breathing if your baby's face presses against them. For the same reason, don't leave fluffy toys or stuffed animals in your infant's crib. Instead, tuck in a lightweight blanket securely at the foot of the crib, with just enough length to cover your baby's shoulders. Then place your baby in the crib, near the foot, covered loosely with the blanket. If you dress your baby in a kimono or sleep sack, you may not need to use a blanket unless the room is cool or you place the crib near a window in cold weather. Many adult beds aren't safe for young infants. A baby can become trapped and suffocate between the headboard slats, the space between the mattress and the bed frame, or the space between the mattress and the wall. Foldout sofa beds seem to be especially dangerous for infants.

A smoke-free environment is especially important during pregnancy and in your baby's first year of life. Infants whose mothers smoke during and after pregnancy are three times more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome than are infants of nonsmoking mothers. Do not smoke or use substances such as alcohol or drugs, which may make waking difficult. It is also important to be aware that unlike cribs, which are designed to meet safety standards for babies, adult beds are not designed for a baby, and may carry a risk of accidental entrapment and suffocation. Do not smoke when you are pregnant and do not let anyone smoke around your baby. Babies and young children exposed to smoke have more colds and other diseases, as well as an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

More information on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

What is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)? - Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) (also called crib death) is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant baby under 1 year of age.
What causes sudden infant death syndrome? - The cause of sudden infant death syndrome is unknown. It may be due to an abnormality in the control of breathing.
What're the risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome? - The risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome may include problems with sleep arousal or an inability to sense a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood.
How to prevent sudden infant death syndrome? - The number of sudden infant death syndrome deaths has decreased as more parents have put their infants to sleep on their back.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005