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As a parent, one of the scariest things to think about is SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS is a sudden and silent medical disorder that can happen to an infant who appears to be healthy. It is currently the leading cause of death of infants 1 to 12 months old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the exact cause for SIDS is unknown, mounting evidence suggests babies who die from SIDS are born with brain abnormalities or defects, which affect nerve cells that likely control breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and waking from sleep. At this time, there is no way to identify babies born with these abnormalities.
In addition to being born with this vulnerability, research suggests an infant needs exposure to two other factors at the same time in order to be at risk for SIDS. Those factors include being within a critical development period, which occurs when there is rapid growth and development in baby, as well as an outside stressor – such as overheating or being exposed to secondhand smoke.
Though not completely preventable, many actions can be taken to reduce baby's risk for SIDS:
- Always place baby on his back to sleep.
- Use a firm sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet.
- Do not let baby fall asleep on an adult's bed, couch or chair, whether alone or with you.
- Keep soft objects such as pillows, toys, crib bumpers, comforters and loose bedding out of baby's crib.
- Don't smoke during pregnancy and don't allow secondhand smoke around baby.
- Breastfeed for at least 6 months.
- Consider offering baby a pacifier for sleeping to reduce risk.
- Avoid letting baby get too hot during sleep.
- Have baby go for regular checkups and recommended vaccinations. Note: SIDS is not caused by vaccinations, immunizations or shots.
- Don't purchase products, such as wedges or sleep positioners, which claim to prevent or reduce risk for SIDS or similar complications. According to the CDC, research does not support the safety or effectiveness of these protects. The CDC goes on to say that many of these products have been associated with injury or death, especially when used in baby's sleep area.