Understanding what you can do to lower your family’s risk of SIDS is critical. The first step is understanding SIDS, the signs and symptoms, and your child’s risk factors. From there, you’ll be better prepared to reduce those risks and cope with the loss of a child if it occurs in your family.
SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a child under the age of 1. SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 and 12 months of age, responsible for more than 2,000 deaths per year in the United States. In fact, SIDS claims an average of 510 lives every year—making it one of the most common causes of infant mortality nationwide.
Although there is no known way to prevent SIDS, there are ways you can reduce your child’s risk:
Know the risk factors
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is most common in babies between 2 and 4 months old. The risk of SIDS is also higher when:
- Your baby is male.
- Your baby was born prematurely or had a low birth weight.
- You smoke during pregnancy or after your child’s birth.
Know the signs and symptoms
It’s heartbreaking to think of any parent experiencing the loss of a newborn, but it’s essential to know the signs and symptoms so you can take action. If you suspect that your baby has SIDS, they must receive immediate medical attention.
If your baby is sleeping:
- Check on them every few hours to make sure they are breathing normally
- Gently shake them awake if they fall asleep for an extended period of time (20 minutes) or if they’re sleeping too soundly (you can’t hear their breath)
- If the gentle shaking doesn’t wake your child up, call 911.
Reducing your baby’s risk
The best way to protect your baby is by consistently placing them on their back in a crib. If you have a family member or friend visiting, remind them that it’s important to place the baby on their back when holding and feeding the child.
If you must use soft bedding when putting your child to sleep, use only one additional layer of padding in addition to blankets and other bedding materials (such as pillows).
Keep toys clear of baby’s sleep area, as well-intentioned toys may pose a hazard if small parts break off and become choking hazards for babies.
Never smoke around your infant; this includes second-hand smoke exposure as well.
Coping with the loss of a child from SIDS
It’s important to remember that grieving is different for everyone. You may feel sadness, anger, or even guilt.
There are also many ways of coping with the loss of a child from SIDS that can help you get through this challenging time:
Talking about your feelings with family members and friends can be helpful. Expressing your grief in words allows you to move through it more fully by expressing yourself and acknowledging what you’re feeling. Also, try talking with other parents who have experienced similar losses; they’ll understand what you’re going through better than anyone else can.
Some people find comfort in religious faith or spiritual practices like meditation and yoga. If any of these things appeal to you, then give them a try.
Stay informed about SIDS to be able to help reduce your family’s risk.
SIDS is a devastating and completely preventable tragedy. But if you are worried about your baby, there are ways to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Safe sleep guidelines can help lower your child’s likelihood of dying from this condition.
The most important thing is always putting babies on their back when they’re sleeping (not on their stomachs), sharing a room with another child under one year old, avoiding soft bedding in cribs (like pillows and crib bumpers), keeping blankets away from babies’ faces when they sleep (because this can lead them to suffocate) and using pacifiers at nap time or bedtime as long as they’re “backwards”—meaning turned around so that the open endpoints toward baby’s chin instead of her nose—to help keep airways free while sleeping at night.
It is normal to feel devastated if you have lost a child to SIDS. It is important to know that you may experience a range of emotions as you grieve and heal. Try not to let these feelings isolate you—reach out for help when needed. Many resources are available to help you through this difficult time, such as support groups or friends who can listen.