Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) doesn't have a clear cause. And while knowing that is scary for new parents, it should reassure you to know that many risk factors have been identified. Your newborn may be too young for most immunizations, which have been found to help prevent SIDS, but controlling her environment and giving her a safe place to sleep are active steps you can take to protect your precious new baby.
Step 1: SIDS-Proof the Crib
Creating a safe sleeping environment is the number one way experts say you can protect your baby from SIDS. "Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night, to reduce the risk of SIDS," says Shavon Artis, coordinator of the Safe to Sleep Campaign for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
She adds that "Babies should be placed on a firm sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet, to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death."
And don't forget to keep all other items out of the crib. As far as what Baby should wear to be, dress your newborn in enough layers to keep her warm without blankets, but don't let her get so hot that she looks flushed or sweaty.
Artis also recommends visiting the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website if you have any questions about creating a safe crib environment.
Step 2: Sleep Separately
Co-sleeping makes nighttime feedings convenient, and having your newborn within reach gives you peace of mind, but Artis warns against sharing your bed with your newborn. "Babies who sleep in an adult bed with one or more adults are at higher risk for SIDS or accidental suffocation," she says. "We tell parents your baby should also not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else. Babies who are placed for sleep on adult bed, sofa, couch, or armchair are at serious risk for accidental suffocation, entrapment, injury, and death—regardless of whether they are alone or if they share the sleep area with someone."
That doesn't mean your baby has to sleep alone in a separate room. "We do advise parents that keeping the baby's sleep area in the same room and next to where they sleep is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a way to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant deaths," Artis notes.
Step 3: Quit Smoking
Exposure to smoke is associated with SIDS so make hard and fast rules for any smokers who want to ooh and aah over your newborn. Don't let your baby near anyone who is smoking, even outdoors. Since smoke can also cling to fabric, don't let your baby ride in a car where people have been smoking or be held by anyone whose clothing or hair smells of smoke.
Step 4: Breastfeed (If You Can)
You've heard time and again that breast is best, and the association between breastfeeding and SIDS reduction is just one reason why. It's normal to have some nursing hurdles in the first weeks of your baby's life, but don't give up on breastfeeding because you experience pain or your baby seems unwilling to nurse. Ask your doctor to help you find a qualified lactation consultant who can help you resolve these issues for the sake of your baby's health.
About one in five SIDS deaths happen when a baby is being watched by a non-parental caregiver. If you're lucky, you have friends, family and babysitters lined up to pitch in now, watching your baby while you nap or run errands. But because some of these people may be unfamiliar with the danger of SIDS, share prevention tips with anyone who will be alone with your newborn. If you're starting to look for daycare for your baby, be sure to ask how the caregivers work to prevent SIDS and if they don't know about safe sleep tactics, keep on looking.