We often think about the need to child proof a house once a baby begins to move — such as putting gates on stairs, locking cupboards and removing cleaning products from underneath the sink. But really we should start thinking about creating a safe environment where a baby spends most of her time long before she is mobile: where she sleeps.
It is mindboggling that 3,500 infants die annually in the United States from sleep related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); ill-defined deaths; and accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed. This makes SIDS and other sleep related deaths the third leading cause of death for infants in the U.S., following congenital anomalies and prematurity.
Tips for Safe Infant Sleeping
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement outlining strategies each parent can use to create a safe infant sleeping environment to decrease the risk of sleep related death. These include:
- Place infants on their back to sleep. Once infants are big enough to roll, around 4 to 6 months of age, a parent doesn’t need to be vigilantly standing by to re-position the infant onto her back, but it is critical to keep soft objects such as pillows out of the baby’s way.
- Put infants on a firm sleep surface, in a crib or bassinet, covered by a fitted sheet, without bedding, stuffed animals or bumper pads. I think this is one of the hardest recommendations for families to follow because it would seem that the baby would be served best — especially after the shock of childbirth — by soft, cozy and warm bedding, but in this case what the mom deserves, and what the baby needs, are strikingly different. Babies can suffocate in soft bedding. Also avoid putting babies to sleep on couches because they can be so squishy.
- Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the risk of SIDS. It has many other protective health factors as well, such as fewer ear infections and other illnesses.
- Stop smoking. For reasons not entirely understood, smoking increases the risk of sleep related deaths dramatically, even if the parent isn’t smoking in bed. Besides, you will need the money you used to spend on cigarettes to put toward raising your child. The most recent cost estimate is $245,000.
- Consider using a pacifier at naptime and bedtime. Again, no one knows exactly why, but pacifier use seems to be protective, even if it falls out of the baby’s mouth soon after the she falls asleep.