At this time, there is no way to predict which babies will die from SIDS. There are a few things parents can do to lower the risk of SIDS though. This includes:
- Early and routine prenatal care
- Routine check-ups starting early in pregnancy, proper nutrition, and no smoking or drug or alcohol use by the mother may prevent a baby from developing an abnormality that increases risk for SIDS. This may also reduce the chance of having a premature or low birth weight baby, which also increases the risk for SIDS. The risk of SIDS is higher for babies whose mothers smoked when they were pregnant.
Put Your Baby on His / Her Back for Sleep
- Parents and other caregivers should put babies to sleep on their backs. You should not put them on their stomach or side.
- Studies have shown that placing babies on their backs to sleep has reduced the number of SIDS cases by as much as a half in countries where it was common for babies to sleep on their stomachs.
- Babies that can roll from their back to their belly and from their belly to their back on their own can be left in that position.
- Move your baby to a crib or bassinet as soon as you can if they fall asleep in a car safety seat, stroller, swing, infant sling or infant carrier.
Parents need to be sure that other caregivers, babysitters, family members and day care centers understand:
- SIDS risks
- What they can do to prevent SIDS
Though many parents are afraid babies will choke on spit-up or vomit if placed on their backs, studies have not found any proof of increased risk of choking or other problems.
Use Other Positions Only If the Doctor Tells You To
In some cases, doctors may say that a baby should be placed on their stomach to sleep if they have a disorder such as gastroesophageal reflux or certain upper airway disorders. These disorders make them more likely to have choking or breathing problems while lying on their backs.
Place Baby on Their Stomach while Awake
A certain amount of tummy time while the baby is awake and being watched is advised for motor development of the shoulders. Also, awake time on the stomach may help prevent flat spots from forming on the back of the baby's head. This is most often temporary and will return to normal soon after the baby starts to sit up.
Make sure that your baby sleeps on a firm mattress or other firm surface (such as a crib, bassinet, portable crib or play yard). Do not use fluffy blankets or comforters under the baby. Do not let the baby sleep on an adult bed (especially waterbeds), sofas, chairs, sheepskin, pillows, or other soft fabrics. When your baby is very young, do not place soft stuffed toys, bumper pads or pillows in the crib with them. Some babies have been smothered by these soft materials in their crib. You can check with the Consumer Product and Safety Commission website for more information about crib safety standards.
Babies should be kept warm, but they should not be allowed to get too warm. An overheated baby is more likely to go into a deep sleep and be hard to arouse. The temperature in the baby's room should feel comfortable to an adult. Do not overdress the baby. Keep the temperature in your baby's room so that it feels comfortable to you.
Avoid Bed Sharing
Room-sharing but not bed-sharing is advised. Studies show this decreases the risk of SIDS as much as 50 percent. These studies show that bed sharing between mother and baby, and others, can alter sleep patterns of the mother and her baby. Devices which claim to make bed-sharing “safe” such as co-sleepers or positioners are not advised. If a mother chooses to sleep in the same bed with her baby, even though this is not advised, care should be taken to avoid using soft sleep surfaces. Quilts, blankets, pillows, comforters, or other soft materials should not be placed under the baby. Do not smoke or use substances such as alcohol or drugs, which may make it hard to wake. Unlike cribs, which are made to meet safety standards for babies, adult beds are not made for a baby. They may carry a risk of your baby being trapped and suffocated on accident.
Do not smoke when you are pregnant and do not allow others to smoke around your baby. Keep all of your home, your car, and other vehicles smoke-free to protect your baby. Babies and young children exposed to smoke have more colds and other disease, as well as an increased risk of SIDS.
If your baby seems sick, call your doctor or clinic right away. Parents should take their babies for routine well baby check-ups and immunizations. Claims that immunizations increase the risk of SIDS are not proven by research. Babies who receive their scheduled immunizations are less likely to die of SIDS. If a baby ever has an event where they stop breathing and turn blue or limp, the baby should be checked by a doctor to figure out the cause.
Breastfeed Your Baby
If able, you should breastfeed your baby. Research suggests that breastfeeding might reduce the risk of SIDS. A few studies have found SIDS to be less common in babies who have been breastfed. This may be because breast milk can provide protection from some infections that can trigger sudden death in babies. If you bring your baby into your bed to feed or comfort them, put your baby back in their crib when you are ready to return to sleep.
Consider a Pacifier at Bedtime and Nap Time
Studies have shown a protective effect of pacifiers on reducing the risk of SIDS. Offer a pacifier to your baby when you put them down to sleep. You don’t have to put the pacifier back in once the baby falls asleep. Do not hang the pacifier around your baby’s neck or attach it to clothing while your baby is sleeping. This could strangle or injure your baby. If you are breastfeeding, wait until feeding is going well before giving your baby a pacifier; this may take several weeks.
Home Monitors for Babies at Risk
Though some electronic home monitors can detect and sound an alarm when a baby stops breathing, there is no proof that these can prevent SIDS. In 1986, the National Institutes of Health advised that home monitors not be used for babies who do not have an increased risk of sudden, unexpected death. The monitors may be advised for:
- Babies who have had one or more severe events during which they stopped breathing and needed resuscitation or stimulation
- Premature babies with apnea (stopping breathing)
- Siblings of two or more SIDS babies
If an event has occurred, or if a baby is on a monitor, parents need to know how to properly use and maintain the device. They also need to know how to resuscitate their baby if the alarm sounds.