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SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, is what we blame for the unexplained death of an otherwise perfectly healthy child at three or four months of age (on average). The causes of SIDS are unknown, and there may be multiple factors. The current leading theory focuses on a defect of the breathing center located in the brain; in some sense, it is thought, these children forget to breathe. Fortunately, this devastating event is rare and has become even rarer in recent years. Based on strong scientific evidence, child-care experts and physicians have cautioned parents against putting children face down to sleep. Back sleeping eliminates the pressure on the nose and mouth that could presumably induce smothering when the baby sleeps on his or her belly.

Real questions from real parents
But isn’t my baby much more comfortable on her belly?
Your baby is more comfortable in the position you get her used to. Put her on her back ten times, and she won’t want to be on her belly.

Does it really make a difference?
SIDS is rare, but back sleeping has decreased the risk by half even though doctors don’t really understand why. That’s a huge decrease, especially when it comes to such a devastating event.

Other than back sleeping, what else can I do to prevent SIDS?
Limit the risk of breathing obstructions in the crib and elsewhere by removing fluffy pillows, stuffed animals, and so on. Also, avoid smoking around the baby; studies have found that secondhand smoke significantly increases the SIDS risk.

How about baby breathing monitors?
They have not been shown to decrease the occurrence of SIDS, but they’re certainly responsible for increasing anxiety in parents. I don’t recommend them for healthy infants.

When can I stop worrying?
By six months of age the risk becomes extremely low.

What if my baby is able to roll over onto her belly at an early age?
You can’t spend the night flipping Lucy onto her back over and over. In any case, she’ll probably arrive at this milestone at a stage when SIDS is extremely unlikely.

What are the risks involved in cosleeping?
Some reports claim that it does not affect the risk of SIDS. Some claim that it does, slightly. Personally, I feel it is entirely safe if there are no drugs or alcohol involved and if the parents are not heavy sleepers [See: Cosleeping].

What about pets?
The research does not show that pets increase the risk of SIDS [See: Pets].