Sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS refers to a sudden death of a seemingly healthy baby for an unknown reason, typically while asleep which is why it is sometimes also called the crib death. It is very rare but it remains the leading cause of death in babies younger than 1 year of age in the developed countries. Sudden, unexplained death almost never occurs in infants younger that 1 month of age, while its incidence tends to decrease after 6 months of age. It does not cause any warning signs and can happen to anyone even if they carefully followed all preventive measures.
The causes of SIDS remain a mystery. Scientists have investigated a number of factors but for now, they have not managed to identify the exact causes. They have, however, discovered several factors that may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Interestingly, the number one risk factor is placing the baby to sleep on his or her stomach. Why babies who are placed to sleep on their stomach are more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome is not fully understood but it is believed that it may prevent them to breathe properly. Other factors that are associated with increased risk of a sudden, unexplained death in infants include:
- age (most babies die from sudden, unexplained death between 1 month and 6 months of age)
- low birth weight
- premature birth
- exposure to tobacco smoke
- recent infection of the upper respiratory tract
- heat including too warm room and overdressing
- sleeping on too soft surface
Health experts also believe that the sudden death of seemingly healthy babies is more likely to occur if their mother was younger than 20 years of age when giving birth, smoked or used drugs during pregnancy, did not receive proper prenatal care, did not gain enough weight during pregnancy or developed certain pregnancy complications such as placenta previa. For an unknown reason, sudden infant death syndrome tends to be more common among Native Americans and African Americans. However, it is important to keep in mind that the causes of this mysterious death in infants are not fully understood and that it can also occur in babies who do not have any of the mentioned risk factors.
Unfortunately, there are no sure ways to prevent SIDS but the following measures are thought to significantly reduce the sudden death in infants:
- Get early prenatal care and follow the guidelines for healthy pregnancy.
- Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back. Never put your baby to sleep on his or her stomach or even the side because he or she can roll to his or her stomach.
- Do not assume that caregivers and babysitters know that they should not put your baby to sleep on his or her stomach. Make sure that they really understand that it is crucial to put your baby to sleep on his or her back.
- Keep your baby’s room pleasantly warm but not too warm.
- Keep your baby’s crib in your bedroom for the first six months.
- Select a firm mattress for your baby’s crib and do not cover your baby with multiple blankets.
- Do not put any pillows and stuffed toys in your baby’s crib.
- Do not overdress your baby.
- Breastfeed if possible and offer your baby pacifier to sleep with during the first year.
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