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Stopping SIDS: A pediatrician’s perspective

As a parent, the concern about sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, kept me awake at night when my children were babies. I cannot count the number of times (often in one night) that I reached into my children’s cribs and placed a hand on their bodies just to feel the gentle rise and fall of their chests or watched the baby monitor until I saw them move in their sleep. There were times during those first four months (SIDS deaths are highest between months 1 and 4) I hardly slept at all.

October is National SIDS Awareness Month. SIDS is the name given to any baby who dies while asleep due to an unknown reason. In some cases, suffocation is later determined to be the cause of death. In others, no medical explanation is ever found.

In clinic, we spend a good deal of time discussing where and how to put a baby to sleep. While it’s true that SIDS deaths can occur even under ideal sleep conditions, we know that putting an infant to sleep on their back on a firm mattress intended for an infant is the most effective single intervention available to lower an infant’s risk. In the 20 years since the Safe to Sleep campaign was launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, SIDS deaths have declined by nearly 50 percent.

Safe to Sleep tells us to put babies in cribs or bassinets without blankets, bumpers, or toys. Avoid letting babies sleep in chairs, on couches, or in swings. A recent study out of Kansas City looked back at nearly 8,000 SIDS deaths in 24 states and found an alarming number of the infants were placed faced down on a sofa to nap, suggesting that even with parents very close by, SIDS can happen.

We know to dress babies in a light layer of clothing — such as pajamas with feet — that will keep them warm but not overheated. We also know that smoking around a baby increases his or her risk of SIDS, so keep smokers out of the home and especially the rooms where infants sleep.

Teaching a baby to sleep alone on his or her back in a crib takes time. Parents report that babies sleep longer, deeper, and more soundly when on a chest, in a bed, or in the swing. While I empathize with what they report, I also know that they would be heartbroken should their baby die in a less than ideal sleep situation.

My advice is always the same: follow Safe to Sleep guidelines to lower the risk of SIDS and be patient, sleep will come.

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About Dr. Sara Connolly, Bundoo Medical Director

Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, is a Board Certified Pediatrician who practices in Palm Beach County, Florida. She completed her residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami, where she served as Chief Resident. She has a passion for child advocacy and has worked on the local, state, and national level to increase access to care for children. Her interests include nutrition, breastfeeding, and parenting skills.

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