Infant Mortality Hands

Separating Fact from Fiction around Infant Mortality

Bringing home a newborn can be intimidating. You’ve spent months preparing your home for this tiny new person and then they’re here. Everything you’ve been imagining is now real.

It certainly doesn’t help to know that there are sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID). It’s a term used to describe the death of a baby less than one year old with no obvious cause. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a SUID most people are familiar with. SIDS is caused by accidental suffocation in a sleeping environment.

It is terrifying to think you could put your baby to bed for the night and they will not wake up. However, it’s rare. There are only 3,400 unexpected infant deaths each year out of 3.6 million births.

The mystery around SIDS and SUID has led to many myths and misperceptions.

Baby and Mom at Doctor's Appointment

Time to bust some myths

Doctors have known about SIDS for decades yet there is no known way to prevent SIDS. There are some effective ways to reduce the risk, which we’ll get to a little later.

That lack of knowledge has led to multiple myths. Here are some along with the facts.

  • SIDS is contagious — SIDS is not caused by an infection so it can’t be caught or spread.
  • It’s caused by cribs — Not by themselves but some features of the sleep environment can increase the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.
  • Babies will choke if they vomit while sleeping on their back — Babies automatically swallow or cough out any fluid they vomit or spit up. It’s safer for a baby to sleep on their back.
  • Vaccines cause SIDS — Recent studies show vaccines may protect against SIDS.
  • SIDS can affect babies of any age — It occurs most often in babies between one and four months, and becomes less of a risk after the baby reaches their first birthday.
Pregnant Woman Touching Her Belly

Contributing factors

The exact cause of SIDS may be unknown, but there are a few environmental and physical factors that are common in most instances.

Physical factors include:

  • Brain defects. Often the part of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep doesn’t work properly.
  • Low birth weight. This could also contribute to immature brain development and be a reason some automatic brain processes don’t work properly.
  • Respiratory infection. Colds or other illnesses can make it hard for a baby to breathe.

Environmental factors include:

  • Sleeping on the stomach or side. It is often easier for a baby to breathe when placed on their back.
  • Sleeping on a soft surface. A waterbed, pillow, or fluffy bedspread can cause a baby to rebreathe the air they exhale which reduces their intake of much-needed oxygen.
  • Sharing a bed. The risk is increased when the baby shares a bed with parents, siblings, or pets.
  • Overheating. The risk goes up when a baby is too warm.

Risk factors

SIDS can affect any baby, but the risk is greater in infants who are:

  • Boys
  • Between two and four months
  • Nonwhite
  • Living with smokers
  • Born premature

Other contributing factors include a family history of SIDS, mothers who are under 20 years old or provide inadequate prenatal care, and parents who smoke, use drugs, or consume alcohol.

Baby Lying on His Crib

Reducing the risk

There is no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS, but there are steps any family can take to help babies have a safer night’s sleep.

  • On the back — Put babies on their back to sleep for the first year of life, or until they can consistently roll from back to front.
  • Empty the crib — Use a firm mattress and limit the toys, blankets, and pillows that could suffocate a baby.
  • Don’t overheat — There’s no need to add covers to keep a baby warm.
  • Share a room — Keep the baby in the room where you sleep for up to a year.
  • Breast feed if possible — Doing this for at least six months can reduce the risk.
  • Immunize — There is some evidence immunizations may help prevent SIDS.

Caring for moms and babies

At AltaMed, we’re thinking about the best ways to care for mothers and their babies — even before they’re born. We provide moms-to-be, wannabe moms, and new mothers with specialized care so they’re in the best health and can pass that good health along to their baby.

We offer a variety of family planning services, including well-woman office visits, and more. And our pediatricians can care for your baby until they are fully grown, including giving age-appropriate immunizations and screenings.

Use our Find a Doctor tool to search based on preferences like the gender you’re most comfortable with, preferred language, and city. You’ll find great AltaMed doctors who can keep you and your whole family healthy.

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Mother and Baby

Tips to Keep Your Baby Safe

Babies depend on us for everything — feeding, dressing, changing, bathing. Parents are caregivers and protectors. It’s a full-time job.

Expectant parents, grandparents, or anyone who plans to have babies in the house — even for a visit — should take some time to look at the basics for keeping babies safe in a number of situations.

Dad Holding His New Born

Baby-proofing basics

Babies are tiny, helpless things that usually stay where you put them — at least for a few months. It doesn’t take long until they start crawling, scooting, cruising, and eventually toddling. You would be surprised the things a baby can get into, so take the time to literally get on their level. Crawl around and actively look for potential hazards.

  • Electrical outlets — These are easy to fill with plastic covers.
  • Curtains — Hang them up out of baby’s way.
  • Cords — Keep blind and electric cords out of reach.
  • Tablecloths — Babies can pull on these and bring whatever is on the table tumbling down.
  • Tall furniture — Anchor entertainment centers and dressers to the wall for when babies start climbing.
  • Cabinets — It’s easy to install pantry locks inside the doors to keep out curious babies.
  • Gates — Put these up early so the baby won’t see them as barriers to exploration.
Mom Bathing Her Baby

Making bath time safe

Bath time should be a fun experience for a baby. It’s important to get clean but just as important for the baby to experience the water and see it as something positive. Here are some tips for making bath time a safe time for your baby.

  • Prepare — Get everything you need for the bath before bringing the baby to the bathroom.
  • Fill the tub — Check the water temperature to make sure it’s not too hot before putting the baby in the water. Adjust the hot water heater so it’s no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Stay put — Never leave a baby unattended or in the care of an older child. Babies can drown in one inch of water.
  • Cover it — Put a cushioned cover or a hand towel on the faucet to protect the baby’s head, should they bump it.
  • Bath seats — Place them far enough from the faucet so baby can’t reach. Also never lift the seat with the baby in it.
  • Lock it — Close the toilet lid and get a lock. A curious baby could fall in. Also use pantry locks for the bathroom cabinets.
Mom Securing Her Baby in Chair

Getting ready to ride

Everyone needs to be buckled up in a car, especially babies. They should always ride in rear-facing seats until they reach the maximum height and weight listed on the instructions.

Every state has unique requirements about children riding in car seats. For California, car seats are required by law. The California Department of Highway Patrol provides a breakdown of current car seat laws for infants and children based on age and weight. Additionally, the California Office of Traffic Safety has information on where new parents can get discounted car seats, or in some cases, for free.

It is also important to use a new car seat whenever possible as safety standards are constantly evolving. Never use a damaged car seat or one that has been in an accident, and never leave a child alone in a car, even for a moment. Put things you need near your baby to remind you to take your baby out of the car.

Babies Playing with Cubes

Playing it safe

Toys, clothes, and other items come with age recommendations for a reason. Babies are always putting things in their mouths, so age-appropriate toys shouldn’t have anything that could be a choking hazard. There also shouldn’t be any cords, sharp edges, or other potential dangers.

  • Stay close — Don’t leave a baby unattended in a swing, bouncer, or activity center.
  • Stay grounded — Don’t put play items on beds or sofas where the child can roll off.
  • Check surroundings — Make sure there are no cords, plants, or other items near where your baby is playing.
  • Sleep right — Swings, bouncers, and other similar items should not be used as substitutes for cribs.
  • Move on — Stop using anything your baby outgrows, or anything that becomes damaged.
  • Register — Register items with the manufacturer in case there is ever a product recall.

Keeping babies healthy

Keeping babies safe includes making sure they have the proper immunizations. AltaMed pediatric patients can get their vaccinations for mumps, measles, HPV, and the flu, to keep them, and the community, healthy.

We can also direct you to social services that can help you with your child’s nutrition and other resources. For information or to make an appointment call (888) 499-9303.

Separating Fact from Fiction around Infant Mortality