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Q: How can I protect my baby from SIDS?

SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is a medical disorder that causes the sudden and unexplained death of an infant who otherwise appears healthy. It is the leading cause of death in babies between the ages of one month and one year.

SIDS often seems to happen when a baby is sleeping. However, it’s not the same as suffocation or accidental death.

Scientists don’t yet understand what causes SIDS. However, some research suggests that it may be linked with abnormalities in the brain that affect breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and waking from sleep.

Fortunately, research has shown that taking specific steps can help reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS.

The single most significant risk factor for SIDS is stomach sleeping, so always place your baby on their back when putting them down at night or for naps. Babies who usually sleep on their backs but are then placed on their stomachs are at the highest risk, so make sure any caregivers, including relatives or babysitters, know how to put them down to sleep safely.

Other steps you can take include putting babies to sleep on a surface that’s firm and flat, keeping soft bedding, toys and crib bumpers out of the crib, and making sure baby doesn’t get too warm while sleeping. Sleeping with a fan or using a pacifier both help to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Exposure to cigarette smoke, both in the womb and in the environment, can increase the risk of SIDS. So take steps to quit smoking before you get pregnant, and don’t let others smoke around your baby.

Finally, you can reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS by ensuring they have enough tummy time every day. While your baby is awake, place them on their tummy for a few minutes two or three times a day. This helps strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles and improves their motor skills.

SIDS is scary, but by taking steps for safer sleep, you can reduce the risk and protect your baby.

Lisa M. Yoshikawa, MD

Pediatrics (Hospitalist)

Maui Memorial Medical Center
221 Mahalani Street
Wailuku, HI 96793