Reducing the Risk of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death
Approximately 3,500 infants die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the United States. In the past several years, terms describing sudden infant death have become confusing, not only to parents, but to professionals as well. The Centers
for Disease Control (CDC) has suggested sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) be used as a broad term to include all sudden infant deaths. Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) is the death of an infant less than 1 year of age that occurs
suddenly and unexpectedly, and whose cause of death is not immediately obvious before investigation. Most sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs) are labelled as one of three types of infant deaths:
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is described as the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation. SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants 1-12 months of age.
- Unknown Cause. A sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained because a thorough investigation was not completed and the cause of death cannot be determined.
- Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB). Circumstances of ASSB include: suffocation by soft bedding, overlay (when a person rolls on top of or against a sleeping infant), entrapment (when an infant becomes wedged between two objects) and strangulation (when an infant’s head and neck become caught between crib railings).
Even after thorough investigations are completed it is hard to tell SIDS apart from other sleep-related infant deaths. The risk of sudden unexpected infant death can be reduced by creating a safe sleep environment for infants. Follow
these recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and share this information with anyone who cares for your baby, including grandparents, family, friends and all childcare providers:
- Always place infants on their back to sleep.
- Place your babies on a firm sleep surface. The crib, bassinet, portable crib or play yard should meet current safety standards. Check http://www.cpsc.gov/ for recalls.
- Put babies to sleep in a bare bed. Loose bedding, stuffed toys, pillows, blankets and bumper pads could cause suffocation.
- Place babies to sleep in cribs or bassinets in the same room where caregivers sleep but not the same bed. While infants can be brought into bed for nursing or comforting, they should be returned to their cribs or bassinets when they are
ready to sleep.
- Breastfeed as much as and for as long as possible. Studies show breastfeeding can help decrease the risk of SIDS.
- Offer a pacifier at nap and bedtime. Pacifiers have been shown to have a protective factor against SIDS. If breastfeeding, wait until breastfeeding is going well before offering a pacifier, which can take 3-4 weeks. Some babies refuse
pacifiers, which is okay. You can try introducing a pacifier at a later time. If your baby does take a pacifier and it falls out after they fall asleep, research shows it does not need to be put back in your baby’s mouth to continue the protective
- Before birth, mothers should receive early and regular prenatal care. Once baby is born, take your child to all well-child doctor appointments and have all immunizations given, as they have been shown to be a protective factor against
SIDS. Do not drink alcohol or use drugs while pregnant or after birth. All caregivers should be as attentive as possible while caring for an infant.
- Smoking during pregnancy is a major risk factor for SIDS, as well as a baby’s smoke exposure after birth. Besides sleeping position, smoke exposure is the largest contributing risk factor for SIDS.
- Avoid overheating and head covering. Keep the room where infants sleep at a comfortable temperature and dress him or her in no more than one extra layer than you would wear. Use infant sleep clothing designed to keep babies warm
without the risk of having their heads covered if you are concerned your baby is getting too cold.
For parents and families who have experienced a SUID, many groups, including the Iowa SIDS Foundation (www.iowasids.com), can provide grief support.