SIDS Prevention for Premature Babies

Placing your baby on his back to sleep can help to prevent SIDS.
Placing your baby on his back to sleep can help to prevent SIDS.. Image copyright Ross Whitaker / Getty Images

What Is SIDS?

SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, is the death of an infant under 1 year of age that remains unexplained after a thorough investigation. SIDS is a complicated problem, and doctors don't know exactly what causes SIDS. We do know that certain babies are more at risk for SIDS than others, and that premature babies have a higher SIDS risk than babies who were born at term.

Although SIDS can happen any time during the first year of life, the risk is highest between 2 and 3 months of age.

For premature babies, the risk is highest between 2 and 3 months corrected age, or 2 to 3 months after your baby's original due date. The risk for SIDS remains high until about 6 months of age, then drops slowly. By a baby's first birthday, the risk for SIDS is very low.

Preventing SIDS

Although we don't know exactly what causes sudden infant death syndrome, we do know that there are a number of strategies that can help with SIDS prevention for term and preterm babies.

  • Place Your Baby On His Back to Sleep: It's very important that infants sleep on their backs. Placing your baby on his or her back during sleep is the number one way to prevent SIDS. The rate of SIDS dropped by more than 50% when the American Academy of Pediatrics started their Back to Sleep campaign, but many babies are still being placed to sleep on their stomachs or sides. Make sure that your caregivers know to put your baby on his or her back during naptimes and bedtime as well, as the risk of SIDS is particularly high for babies who normally sleep on their backs but who are put to bed on their bellies.
  • Babyproof Your Crib: Whether you are using a crib, a cosleeper, or a bassinet, make sure your baby's bed is safe. Babies should sleep on a firm mattress with a tightly fitted sheet. Don't put soft or fluffy bedding, such as sheepskins or quilts, under your baby. Remove stuffed animals and crib bumpers, and don't use crib positiong aids to help your baby stay in one position. Although your crib may seem bare, an empty crib is a safe crib. Fluffy mattresses and crib bumpers can prevent fresh air from getting to your baby, and stuffed animals and positioning aids are suffocation hazzards.
  • Use Wearable Blankets: Babies can get tangled up in blankets, and blankets can cover a baby's face preventing fresh air from getting to the baby. Instead of wrapping your baby in traditional blankets, consider using wearable blankets or swaddle sacks during sleep. If you do use a blanket, keep it tucked in and no higher than baby's chest.
  • Sleep Close but Separate: When you plan where your baby will sleep, look for a spot in your bedroom. Babies have a lower risk for dying from SIDS when they sleep in the same room as a parent. Sleeping in the same bed, however, is not recommended. Adult bedding isn't safe for a sleeping baby, and parents may accidentally roll onto a baby. Babies should especially not sleep in a bed with parents who are overtired or who have been drinking or taking medication.
  • Avoid overheating: Sleeping in a room that's too warm or being too bundled can both increase a baby's risk for SIDS. A baby's bedroom should be about 70 °F, or about the temperature that a lightly clothed adult would feel comfortable in. Consider buying a separate thermometer for baby's room to help make sure it's the right temperature.
  • Consider pacifier use: Some studies have shown that babies who sleep with a pacifier have a lower risk for dying from SIDS. Consider offering your baby a pacifier during sleep. Wait about a month before offering your baby a pacifier if you're breastfeeding, to help establish good breastfeeding habits. Don't try to force your baby to take a pacifier or dip it in anything sweet. If your baby's pacifier falls out during sleep, don't wake your baby to put it back in.
  • Avoid Exposure to Cigarette Smoke: Many people know that smoking during pregnancy can increase your baby's risk of dying from SIDS, but there is also a risk of SIDS if your baby is exposed to second hand smoke after birth. Protect your baby by never smoking in your home or car. If you or a family member smoke, do so outside. Designate a jacket that you wear only when you smoke, and remove the jacket and wash your hands before handling your baby.
  • Lower Your Baby's Risk: Although doctors don't know exactly what causes SIDS, they do know that certain things put your baby at risk for dying from SIDS. Protect your baby by going to your doctor as recommended while you're pregnant, quitting smoking, educating yourself on SIDS prevention, and reducing your risk for preterm birth.

Sources:

American Academy of Peciatrics Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. "Technical Report SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment." Pediatrics November 2011; 128; e1341 - e1367.

American Academy of Peciatrics Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. "Policy Statement: The Changing Concept of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Diagnostic Coding Shifts, Controversies Regarding the Sleeping Environment, and New Variables to Consider in Reducing Risk." Pediatrics November 2005; 116; 1245 - 1253.

Getahun, D., Amre, D., Rhoads, G., and Demissie, K. "Maternal and Obstetric Risk Factors for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in the United States." Obstetrics and Gynecology April 2004; 103, 646 - 652.

Halloran, D., Alexander, G., and Adams, M. "Preterm Delivery and Age of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome." Journal of Investigative Medicine February 2005; 53, 5292.

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