I’m sure many of you have heard of SIDS, which is also known as cot death. SIDS is defined as the sudden unexpected death of an infant, which appears to happen during sleep, where the death can’t be explained even after an autopsy.
In the developed world, SIDS and suffocation are the most common cause of sudden unexpected infant deaths (an infant is a child under 1 year of age). Unfortunately, in South Africa, we don’t know the stats since most infants that die unexpectedly don’t undergo routine autopsies to identify cause of death.
You all probably know that back sleeping is the safest for your baby, but there are other additional ways you can reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of death. I have put together some tips in which to create a safe sleep environment for your baby from birth up until 1 year of age.
Always place your baby to sleep on his or her back, for night sleeps AND naps. There is no evidence to prove that your baby is more like to choke if he or she vomits or regurgitates in this position, compared to a baby that sleeps in any other position. Placing your baby to sleep on their side is also not recommended, unless indicated for medical reasons by your practitioner.
Once your baby starts to roll, continue to place them to sleep on their backs but do not drive yourself mad by constantly repositioning them if they do roll over in their sleep. Once babies have mastered the art of rolling they can roll themselves right out of trouble if their breathing becomes difficult.
It’s important to also talk a little bit about flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly). Back sleeping is associated with this condition. Babies’ skulls are soft and constant pressure on the same spot can cause the head to change shape. You can avoid this deformity by repositioning your baby’s head to face opposite sides with each sleep.
Your baby should sleep on a firm flat surface. Not a soft surface like a couch, pillow or blanket. Babies should not sleep in car seats, baby swings and carriers either (this is not back sleeping). If your baby does fall asleep in one of these, it’s better to place them flat in their cot or bassinet as soon as possible. I spoke about recline angle and heads blocking airways in my post about car seat safety.
In addition to floppy heads its important to realise that a baby’s head is very large compared to their body. So if you elevate the head too much the airway can also become obstructed.
It’s hard to avoid decorating your little one’s room when there are so many gorgeous accessories available. Just remember to remove all loose items from their beds before naps and bedtime. Such items are a potential entrapment, strangulation and suffocation hazard. Pillows, blankets, stuffed animals and even cot bumpers should not be in your baby’s bed whilst they sleep. There is no evidence to even prove that cot bumpers actually do prevent injury and infants don’t need pillows.
Please also be aware of mobiles. Depending on how high your mobile is your little one may be able to reach for it, as he or she gets older. Then the strings and other components could become a choking and/or strangulation risk.
This tip is debatable since there is mixed evidence in the literature. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that your baby share your room but not your bed. This recommendation was introduced after many infants who co-shared died by either becoming trapped in the bedding or smothered by a parent.
Interestingly in African and Asian countries, this has not been seen. These countries, where co-sharing is the norm, actually have lower rates of sleep-related infant deaths than Western countries. Researchers suggest that co-sharing is actually protective because infants who sleep next to their parents are constantly stimulated. This stimulation keeps them in a more aroused state so they spend less time in deep sleep and are therefore at a lower risk of stopping breathing.
Your baby should not get too hot in their sleep. Dress your baby in only ONE extra layer than you would comfortably wear. A sleep sack is a safe option. No blankets please!
The room temperature should also be kept comfortable. Most baby monitors have a built in temperature function but if yours doesn’t, keep an indoor thermometer in the room and don’t let the temperature go higher than 22o Celsius.
It has been shown that a pacifier reduces the risk of SIDS. You can try giving your baby a pacifier but only once breastfeeding has been well established (if you choose to breastfeed). The nipple can confuse your baby if given too early and you may then have problems with latching.
Remove dummy chains or strings before giving your baby a pacifier to sleep. Also, don’t stress if the dummy falls out during sleep (it most probably will), you don’t need to replace it.
Don’t force a dummy. It’s ok if your baby doesn’t like it, not all babies do.
Now take a step back and look around your baby’s room. Make sure all electrical cables, window blind cords and any other potentially hazardous items within arms reach from the cot are removed.
Looking after our babies is a lot of work and we always need to be on call and think 2 steps ahead. But now that your little one is sleeping SAFELY, go and put your feet up and have a cup of coffee… or maybe go take a nap yourself!
Cadematori, M.E., Piranian, M.A., Skrzypek, P.A. & Pron, A.M. (2016) Caregiver Compliance With Safe Sleep Guidelines. Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews, [online] 16, pp. 122–125. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S152733691630054X [Accessed: 26 September 2018].
Kibel, M.A., Molteno, C.D. & De Decker, R. (2005) Cot death controversies. Cot death. SAMJ, [online] 95 (11). Available from: http://www.samj.org.za/index.php/samj/article/viewFile/1881/1202 [Accessed: 26 September 2018].
Koren, A., Reece, S.M., Kahn-D’angelo, L. & Medeiros, D. (2009) Parental Information and Behaviors and Provider Practices Related to Tummy Time and Back to Sleep. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, [online] 24 (4), pp. 222-230. DOI: 10.1016/j.pedhc.2009.05.002 [Accessed 26 September 2018].
Miller, L.C., Johnson, A., Duggan, L. & Behm, M. (2011) Consequences of the “Back to Sleep” Program in Infants. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, [online] 26, pp. 364-368. Available from: https://0-ac-els–cdn-com.innopac.wits.ac.za/S0882596309002930/1-s2.0-S0882596309002930-main.pdf?_tid=dccfa213-e0d1-4850-beeb-18fd49b69dd5&acdnat=1537520788_cb816c0abb2f56d365e5a1b195a3ca24 [Accessed 26 September 2018].