Thousands of babies die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the United States. SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants between 1 month and one year of age. Parents can take many steps to reduce their baby's risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.
SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is the sudden, unexplained death of a baby younger than one year of age. Many babies also die of causes related to how or where they sleep. SUID, which stands for “Sudden Unexpected Infant Death,” includes all unexpected deaths, including SIDS, along with explained deaths from accidental causes such as suffocation, entrapment or strangulation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH) have developed recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS and all sleep-related infant deaths. Parents can take the following steps to reduce SIDS and keep their baby sleep-safe. This information should also be shared with anyone who cares for babies, including grandparents, family, friends, babysitters, and childcare centers.
Place your baby to sleep on his back for every sleep, including naps and at night. If your baby has rolled from his back to his side or stomach on his own, he can be left in that position. If your baby falls asleep in a car safety seat, stroller, swing, infant carrier, or infant sling, he should be moved to a firm sleep surface as soon as possible.
Place your baby to sleep on a firm, flat sleep surface. The crib, bassinet, portable crib, or play yard should meet current safety standards. Check to make sure it has not been recalled. Do not use a crib that is broken or missing parts or has drop-side rails. Cover the mattress with a fitted sheet. Do not put blankets or pillows between the mattress and the fitted sheet. Never put your baby to sleep on a chair, sofa, water bed, cushion, or sheepskin. Ensure your crib mattress is designed for your specific crib and fits tightly. Don't use products for sleep that aren't specifically marketed for infant sleep—for example, a Boppy pillow. The surface should be flat. Any incline greater than 10 degrees isn’t safe.
Keep soft objects, loose bedding, or any objects that could increase the risk of entrapment, suffocation, or strangulation out of the crib. Pillows, blankets, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, crib bumpers, non-fitted sheets and stuffed toys can cause your baby to suffocate. Crib bumpers do not prevent injury and have been shown to cause serious injuries and even death. If you’re worried that your baby will be cold, dress them in layers of clothing or use a wearable blanket. Don't use weighted blankets, sleepers, swaddles or other weighted objects on or near your baby.
Never sleep with your baby. Babies who sleep in the same bed as their parents are at risk of SIDS, suffocation, or strangulation. Parents can roll onto babies during sleep, or babies can get tangled in the sheets or blankets. If there is any possibility that you might fall asleep while your baby is in your bed, make sure there are no pillows, sheets, blankets or any other items that could cover your baby's face, head and neck or overheat them. As soon as you wake up, be sure to move your baby to their own bed.
Place your baby to sleep in the same room where you sleep but not the same bed. It is recommended that your baby sleeps in the same room as you for at least the first six months. Keep the crib or bassinet within arm’s reach of your bed so you can easily watch or breastfeed your baby. The AAP recommends room sharing because it can decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.
Breastfeed as much and for as long as you can. Studies show that breastfeeding your baby can help reduce the risk of SIDS.
Take your baby to all well-child visits and provide recommended immunizations. Recent evidence suggests that immunizations may have a protective effect against SIDS.
Keep your baby away from smokers and places where people smoke. Don’t smoke during pregnancy or anywhere near your baby. If you smoke, don’t smoke inside your home or car and don’t smoke near your baby, even if you are outside. This includes vaping and electronic cigarettes, which contain nicotine.
Do not let your baby get too hot. Keep the room where your baby sleeps at a comfortable temperature. Dress your baby in no more than one extra layer than you would wear. Your baby may be too hot if she is sweating or if her chest feels hot. Don’t place a hat on your baby indoors once home from the hospital.
Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. If you are breastfeeding, wait about 3 to 4 weeks until breastfeeding is going well before offering a pacifier. It’s OK if your baby doesn’t want to use a pacifier. You can try offering it again but don’t force it. If the pacifier falls out of the baby’s mouth after he falls asleep, you don’t have to put it back in. Never attach the pacifier to a string.
Swaddling. If you swaddle your baby, make sure only to swaddle when your baby is on their back and that the swaddle is not too tight. Stop swaddling when you see the baby starting to try to roll over. Babies can suffocate if they roll onto their stomachs when they are swaddled. They usually roll over around 3-4 months, but it can be sooner.
Do not use home heart or breathing monitors. They have not been found to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you have questions about using monitors for any health condition, talk to your baby’s pediatrician.
Do not use products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. Wedges, positioners, special mattresses, and specialized sleep surfaces have not been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS and can possibly cause suffocation.
Additional steps when pregnant:
- Go to all scheduled prenatal doctor visits.
- Do not smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs while pregnant and after birth.
- Stay away from smokers and places where people smoke.
- Remember tummy time. Give your baby plenty of “tummy time" when awake. This will help strengthen neck muscles and avoid flat spots on the head. Always stay with your baby during tummy time and ensure they are awake.
- Parents and Caregivers: Creating a Safe Sleep Area for Babies (CDC)
- How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe
Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.