Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

The first thing you should know about SIDS is that it is rare. The next thing you should know is that there are several steps (listed below) that parents can take which have been proven to help reduce the risk of its occurrence.

SIDS is the sudden and unexpected death of a baby aged less than one year (usually between one to four months), where no specific cause of death can be determined. When an infant’s death remains unexplained, the death is registered as SIDS, or sometimes as unascertained, cot death, or sudden unexpected infant death. A baby’s death is not considered SIDS if a specific cause is found.

Little is known about what causes SIDS, but some possibilities include serious infection, accident, or a previously unknown problem that the baby was born with (a congenital abnormality). In more than half the cases, a specific cause of death cannot be found, even after a thorough investigation that includes post-mortem examination.

Researchers believe that a combination of factors may play a role in SIDS. Some theories suggest breathing failures or problems with irregular heartbeats. Recent research indicates that SIDS may be triggered by dysfunction in a part of the brain called the medulla oblongata, which controls breathing. Other theories include allergies, bacterial toxins, and genetic abnormalities, but none of these have been proven.

Babies who die from SIDS appear to die painlessly in their sleep. SIDS usually occurs when a baby is asleep in a cot, but can also occur when a baby is in a parent’s arms. SIDS can happen to any baby, but premature babies, low birth-weight babies, and boys are more at risk. SIDS is more likely to occur at night, between midnight and 9 am.

Reducing the risk of SIDS

There is no way to completely protect babies from SIDS, but there are a number of things that you can do to reduce the risk:

– Don’t smoke during pregnancy – this applies to both mothers and fathers!

– Don’t let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby.

– If your baby is unwell, seek medical advice promptly.

– For the first six months, the safest place for your baby to sleep is in the same room where you sleep.

– Never share a bed with your baby if he or she is under three months old, was premature, or weighs less than 2.5kg; if you or your partner smoke (even if you don’t smoke at home); if you have been drinking alcohol; if you have taken medications that make you drowsy; or if you are very tired.

– Lay your baby on his or her back to sleep.

– Don’t fall asleep with your baby while sitting or lying on the sofa.

– Never let your baby sleep with a pillow.

– Keep your baby at the right temperature – not too hot or too cold!
Use the right amount of bedding for the temperature of the room. If your baby is sweating or their tummy feels hot, remove some of the bedding. It’s normal for babies to have cool hands and feet.

– Don’t let your baby sleep with a hot water bottle or an electric blanket, or next to a radiator, heater, fire, or in direct sunshine.

– Don’t use duvets, quilts or pillows if your baby is under the age of 1 year.

– Don’t put too many clothes on your baby.

– Take your baby’s outdoor clothes off as soon as you get inside.

Remember… SIDS is rare, but stay alert and take precautions.

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