To be technically accurate, a case is not considered SIDS if a cause of death can be determined. For example, if a baby monitor or autopsy shows suffocation to be the cause, the case would not be considered SIDS, but rather, a SUID - Sudden Unexpected Infant Death. I mention this because you will find the terms interchanged, used loosely, and find conflicting statistics since some people continue to lump known causes into the SIDS bucket.
When suffocation is eliminated from the picture, the leading theories on truly unknown death causes have to do with brain development and illness. For that reason, general healthy practices are shown to reduce risk (no smoking or drinking during pregnancy; no smoking in a house with babies; breast feeding, etc).
Whatever the cause, over the years much has been learned. For this article, we'll consider suffocation and strangulation risk in the SIDS bucket.
10 Safety Tips to Reduce SIDS Risks
- Place baby on their back when sleeping. "Back to Sleep" is the mantra to remember this. Infants can't role over, and have very heavy heads, so if they end up face-down, it can impair their breathing or lead to suffocation. Don't place baby on her side, either. It is too easy for momentum from a movement to cause her to role over. The graph below shows the correlation of the 'back to sleep' campaign and awareness with the drop in SIDS cases.
- Use firm mattresses only. In a worst-case where baby ends up face-down while sleeping, a firm mattress will allow some airflow. Note - this is a good reason not to put baby into the parents or siblings bed - often these mattresses are too soft, and have other suffocation risks.
- Remove loose blankets from the crib or bassinet. You might be thinking "my baby can't role over yet, so I'll put a blanket on her". Don't. The risk is too high. Some day your baby will role over, and regardless, one mistake where you leave a blanket too close to the babies face would be one mistake too many. Use a sleep sack to keep baby warm.
- Don't Smoke. Causation has not been entirely established, but there is a correlation of SIDS with both households that have smokers, and with mothers who smoked during pregnancy.
- Breast Feed. Another correlation seems to be a reduced risk of SIDS for breast fed babies.
- Never Let Baby Sleep in Adult or Sibling Beds. There are too many risks - soft surfaces and blankets lead to suffocation risks. Many parents use sleep positioners thinking this helps - but they have their own risks. Headboards can cause babies to get trapped or injured. Older siblings may not remember baby is there and injure them. Bottom line - keep babies in bare cribs and on mattresses designed for baby.
- Pacifiers May Help. According to WebMD, sucking on pacifiers is correlated to reduced SIDS risk - but if you are breast feeding wait a few weeks to establish a nursing routine.
- Don't Keep Your Baby TOO Warm. This falls inline with avoiding blankets, but also, there seems to be some hypothesis that overheating can lead to breathing or other regulatory disruption. Again, a sleep sack is a good way to keep baby covered and warm enough.
- Have Baby Sleep Next To Your Bed. For the first several months use a bassinet or crib so baby can be in your room, next to you. Again, NOT in your bed, however. Having baby in your room is convenient for night time feedings and soothings, too.
- No Canopies on Cribs or Bassinets. These items can fall or get knocked over, leading to strangulation or suffocation hazards. As baby grows, she may start exploring and pull it down on her own; or your pet cat could knock it loose. Just save your money and avoid the canopies.
References for more information on SIDS