A few weeks ago, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer designated September infant safe sleep awareness month in her state.
Each year, about 140 children die in Michigan—and about 3,500 die nationwide—as a result of unsafe sleeping environments and sudden infant death syndrome, better known as SIDS.
These deaths are overwhelmingly preventable, Gov. Whitmer stated in a release.
“And our goal in Michigan is having zero deaths resulting from sleeping in an unsafe sleep environment,” she said.
We’ve looked at safe sleep in the past, but we’re now going to look at some other aspects of this topic.
SIDS vs. unsafe sleep death
SIDS and safe sleep aren’t exactly the same issue.
SIDS came under scrutiny in the late 1960s, with researchers refining their understanding of it by the early 1990s.
An early definition of SIDS described it as “the sudden death of an infant under one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene and review of the clinical history.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now describes SIDS as “the sudden and unexpected death of a baby less than 1 year old in which the cause was not obvious before investigation. These deaths often happen during sleep or in the baby’s sleep area.”
The thing to keep in mind is that unsafe sleep practices can also be the cause of death for an infant—but in that case, there is an attributable cause.
Consequently, some states will differentiate between SIDS deaths and unsafe sleep deaths.
You can take important steps to reduce the chances that your baby will fall victim to SIDS, including:
A 2017 study in the journal Pediatrics found that breastfeeding can lower the rate of SIDS.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms breastfeed for at least six months and continue until the child reaches age 1.
Even so, shorter durations still impart critical benefits. Moms who breastfeed for a minimum of two months may cut the risk of SIDS in half, according to the Pediatrics study.
It shouldn’t even need to be said: Don’t smoke around your baby. (Better yet, don’t smoke at all.)
Secondhand smoke is associated with a higher risk of SIDS.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy or who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome … than are babies who are not exposed.”
It’s recommended you let your baby sleep in your room for the first year—but only in your room. Do not let your baby sleep in bed with you.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued the new stance on this in 2016: “Infants should sleep in the same bedroom as their parents—but on a separate surface, such as a crib or bassinet, and never on a couch, armchair or soft surface—to decrease the risks of sleep-related deaths.”
If your baby will use it, provide a pacifier. This is recommended for breastfeeding babies after breastfeeding has been well established, usually at about the 1-month mark.
One study found that use of a pacifier could drastically reduce the risk of SIDS.
Dress your baby appropriately and keep the temperature in the sleeping area at about 68-70 degrees.
At some point you’ve probably seen a mom whose baby is outfitted in a great many layers during the winter, but the baby is sweating because of all those layers. (This holds true even when just transporting the baby from the car to indoors.)
Sound advice: Dress baby as you would dress to sleep. We send new parents home with a sleep sack, which gives their baby some warmth and keeps the baby from sleeping face-down.
You’ve probably heard that babies can’t have honey before age 1. This is because honey can deliver harmful bacteria to a baby’s gut, leading to infant botulism. This has been associated with SIDS.
Your baby should sleep in a spot that has a firm mattress with nothing in the area. Remove pillows, blankets, toys, stuffed animals and bumper pads.
Your baby can safely sleep in a Pack ‘n Play, crib, bassinet or even a cozy box. New Jersey is the first state to give sleeping boxes to new parents.
Baby on back
A public health campaign that originally began as a Back to Sleep campaign has since become a Safe to Sleep campaign, but a core message remains: Babies must sleep on their back.
A final note: Make sure others who watch your baby—grandparents, in-laws, babysitters—are aware of these safe sleep practices.