Preventing SIDS? Reduce the risk!

Latest update: September 19, 2018

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Sadly, preventing SIDS completely is not possible today. There is no cure or vaccine to prevent crib death. But you can reduce the risk as much as possible by following a few simple rules, especially during the first 12 months. Follow the guidelines as much for naps as for night time sleep.

4 simple gestures to protect your baby

  1. No smoking
  2. Baby sleeps on her back
  3. Baby never gets too hot
  4. Baby sleeps in a safe crib, under close supervision or co-sleeps safely

These are the simplest and most effective ways to protect your child. They are the best chance we have for preventing SIDS.

See below for details and further guidelines, and practical tips.

How do we know these guidelines help? In the late 80s-early 90s, many governments launched Back to Sleep campaigns to recommend these precautions, and the sleeping on the back position in particular.

SIDS rates reduced dramatically in the following years so the guidelines remain recommended worldwide.[2]

Guidelines to help prevent SIDS and tips to make them work

No Smoking icon grey

1. No smoking

There is a dramatic relationship between smoking and SIDS.

Do not smoke during pregnancy and do not let anyone smoke near your baby or in any room where your baby stays.

2. Baby sleeps on her back

The only safe sleeping position is lying on the back.

Always put your little one on her back when you put her to sleep, nap time, snooze time and night time.

3. Baby must never get too hot

To prevent overheating: keep the room temperature between 61 and 68 degrees F (16-20ºC). During hot summer nights: compensate with extra light clothing and cover.

Choose light clothing and covers: a light sleeping bag is ideal. It helps keep your child on her back, she will not get uncovered and cold and cannot get trapped under it.

If you use a blanket, tuck it in tight and position your child with feet to the bed foot-end so she cannot slide under the cover.

4. Baby sleeps in a safe crib, under close supervision

Crib safety is a very important step towards preventing SIDS.

Ideally during the first months, keep your baby in the room with you. Your presence by itself is proven to improve protection.

Many parents find that their movement easily wakes up their little one from about 4 to 6 months.

When that happens, and you feel confident about your baby's development, and there are none of the SIDS risk factors playing, you can have her sleep in another room. Continue to check frequently on her and ensure you can monitor as well as if you were in the same room.

The 2016 updated recommendations for safe infant sleeping environment by the AAP advise that a baby sleeps in her parent's room ideally for the full first year, and at least for the first 6 months.[5]

... or co-sleeps safely

Co-sleeping is still disadvised officially by many institutions, although given studies state that in certain circumstances, co-sleeping can offer protection from SIDS.[3]

Always duly follow all co-sleeping safety guidelines.

According to latest research, safe co-sleeping does not increase the risk.

However, when either parent smokes, drinks alcohol, takes medication or is extremely tired, co-sleeping is not safe and is an increased risk factor.[4]

Also if your baby is premature or light-weight you'd rather avoid bed sharing.

A bedside co-sleeper (a cot attached to your bedside) can be a good alternative.

SIDS has also occurred when babies were sleeping on the couch or sofa with their parents.

5. Using a dummy

Using a pacifier or dummy has been shown to reduce SIDS risk.

Since dummy-use may interfere with breastfeeding (another protector from SIDS) it is best to wait until breastfeeding is well established before offering a dummy to your baby.

6. Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding your baby can offer increased protection from crib death.

7. Don't force sleep

Never try to make your small child sleep longer or better by over-feeding or with medication.

She may go into too deep sleep and be at risk of cot death.


Don't allow these pages to make you anxious.

Just keep the guidelines for preventing SIDS in mind, consult a medical professional to assess your baby, be extra careful when your baby is at a higher risk, and then have confidence in your instincts.

Resources

[1] International trends in sudden infant death syndrome Hauck RF, Tanabe KO. 2008.  Pediatrics 122(3): 660-666.

[2] The Lullabytrust - Rates of SIDS reach new record low but The Lullaby Trust warns against complacency Available from https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/ons-2015/ (opens in new window).

[3] Parent-infant cosleeping: the appropriate context for the study of infant sleep and implications for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) research Sarah Mosko, James Mckenna, Lynn Hunt 2004 Journal of Behavioral Medicine 16 (6): 589–610.

[4] Hazardous cosleeping environments and risk factors amenable to change: case-control study of SIDS in South West England. Peter S. Blair and co.a British Medical JournalBMJ 2009;339:b3666. https://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/339/oct13_1/b3666 (opens in new window)

[5] SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. TASK FORCE ON SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/20/peds.2016-2938 (opens in new window)