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.
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.
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.
SIDS can affect any baby, but the risk is greater in infants who are:
- Between two and four months
- 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.
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.