By: Shanna Rottloff, Montana State University Community Health Intern
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. In recent years, the terminology surrounding SIDS has evolved in an attempt to better explain the troubling medical issue. The new, more inclusive term Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) encompasses: SIDS, deaths resulting from unknown causes, and deaths from accidental suffocation or strangulation. In the case of SIDS, these incidents are completely unexplainable even after a thorough investigation. While there has been no definitive evidence as to what causes SIDS, there are many ways in which to reduce an infant’s risk. To reduce an infant’s risk of SIDS, healthcare professionals and research suggests that parents and caregivers can follow these safety tips:
- Back to Sleep. Make sure that the baby is placed on their back when put to bed; it is the safest and most healthy sleep position.
- Create a Safe Sleep Environment. Keep the crib free of loose bedding, bumpers, and toys; soft items like these can create breathing hazards if the baby’s face becomes obstructed. Experts also suggest using a clean, firm sleeping surface for infants.
- Mothers should avoid use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. Research has shown that infants whose mother smoked during and after pregnancy were 3-4 times more likely to die from SIDS. Secondhand smoke can also pose dangerous risks for infants:
- Frequent Illness. Exposure to secondhand smoke can compromise lung development of infants and children and result in frequent infections like pneumonia and bronchitis.
- Children who suffer from asthma are especially sensitive to secondhand smoke and can have asthma attacks triggered by exposure to cigarette smoke.
- Chemical Exposure and Brain Development. Research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that the “chemicals in secondhand smoke appear to affect the brain in ways that interfere with its regulation of infants’ breathing”.
- Breastfeeding is Important! Breastfeeding not only has a plethora of health benefits for mother and infant, it can also lower the risk of SIDS. Studies show that breastfed babies are 60% less likely to die from SIDS with the incidence rate decreasing as the breastfeeding relationship continues; exclusively breastfed babies have an even lowered risk of SIDS. Healthcare professionals suggest that antibodies delivered via breastfeeding may act as a protective factor for infants.