Safety and sleep. They are the two major priorities for new parents.
All parents want to do everything they can to keep their little ones safe.
But new parents are also desperate to get adequate rest.
As parents, we can’t avoiding thinking about the risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation, and strangulation.
From the moment you announce you’re pregnant, you’re told over and over again: babies need to be placed on their backs to sleep.
Yes. We should place babies on their backs to sleep. And we shouldn’t use pillows, thick blankets, or bumpers.
SIDS And Safe Sleep – How Safe Is Your Baby?
In spite of this, one study found 91% of study participants placed their 1 month old infants in unsafe sleeping situations.
The recommendations tell parents to put babies on their back to sleep. Yet new parents also see the sleep positioners, and the cute bedding accessories, and are given stuffed animals and other lovies.
These are mixed messages, and they have clearly led many parents to put babies into unsafe sleeping situations.
Isn’t SIDS Rare And Without A Known Cause?
SIDS, suffocation, and strangulation are different things. They are closely related, however, because safe sleep practices reduce the risk of all three.
Accidental suffocation and strangulation occur when an infant’s airway is blocked or compromised.
SIDS is when a seemingly healthy baby under the age of one dies without an explainable cause. SIDS is sometimes called crib or cot death because that’s where babies are often discovered.
The exact cause of SIDS is still unknown, and there several theories currently being explored. We do know, however, that safe sleep practices, breastfeeding, and being in close proximity to a caregiver can reduce the risk of SIDS death.
In the US, approximately 1500 infants die due to SIDS every year. An additional 840 infants die as a result of accidental suffocation or strangulation. The biggest risk is during the first 6 months of life.
How Did Study Participants Put Their Babies At Risk?
Current evidence supports infants sleeping on their backs on a firm, flat surface, and with no loose (especially heavy) blankets, pillows, bumpers, or stuffed objects.
In the study, researchers used cameras in participants’ homes, to observe sleeping arrangements. The results were staggering.
The following numbers refer to parents not following safe sleep guidelines:
- 91% of parents with 1 month olds
- 87% with 3 month olds
- 93% with 6 month olds.
In the results of study, although unsafe bed-sharing was a problem, researchers found loose blankets, bumpers, stuffed animals, and sleep positioners to be of greater concern.
Most infants in the study were originally placed on an unsafe sleep surface that didn’t involve bed sharing. 84% of 1 month olds had loose bedding, 24% had crib bumpers and 16% had stuffed animals in the bed or bassinet.
Unsafe bed sharing is a legitimate concern. Many researchers, such as James McKenna, have studied bed sharing and produced guidelines for safe practice.
You can read more about safe bed sharing in Sleeping With Baby – Safe Co-Sleeping Tips and The First President Of SIDS Foundation Says Bed Sharing Isn’t Inherently Dangerous.
Why Are Safe Sleep Arrangements Important?
Although SIDS isn’t always preventable, evidence shows safe sleeping, breastfeeding, eliminating smoke exposure, and having a caregiver close by reduce the risks of a baby dying from SIDS.
Accidental suffocation and strangulation, however, are fully preventable. Many parents are quite desperate for sleep, but adding a pillow, blanket or sleep positioner to garner some extra rest just isn’t worth the risk.
Heather lost her 3 week old, Gabriella, to SIDS several years ago. Since her loss, she has been an advocate and educator for sleep safety.
Referring to this current study, Heather said:
“When it comes to safe sleep, I don’t think there is such a thing as being too careful. It seems that many parents get defensive of their own potentially unsafe practices … maybe using crib bumpers, or loose blankets, rather than just opening up to the possibility that there just might be a better way.
After losing my first baby to SIDS, and having practiced safe sleeping, it stings a little more when I see parents just blatantly (but with good intentions) creating an unsafe environment and defending it. I think gentle but firm education is the key.
No one intends to put their baby at risk, but we’ve got to let go of the ‘cute’ (but unsafe) bedding accessories and adopt a more serious approach to safety”.
What Do Parents Need To Know?
SIDS and accidental infant death are scary, and as parents we have so much to worry about. We shouldn’t obsess or become overly anxious, but we must be conscious of following evidence-based safe sleep practices.
Some important things to keep in mind regarding this current study and safe sleep:
- SIDS is rare, but it is a risk we should take precautions to avoid
- Babies should be placed on their backs to sleep
- Blankets used for swaddling, or sleep sacks, are safe, but loose blankets are not. Swaddle until your baby is ready to start rolling or breaking out of the swaddle.
- Crib bumpers are purely decorative and should never be used in a crib with a baby in it
- Pillows and sleep positioners should never be used with infants (firm crib wedges under the mattress are considered safe provided they properly fit the crib/bassinet)
- Cribs should be free of puffy bedding, stuffed animals or extra linens
- Practise safe bed sharing, whenever you choose to bed share, even if only occasionally
- Never share an unsafe sleep surface (such as a water bed, couch, recliner, etc) with a baby
- Video monitors, movement/breathing sensor monitors, etc. are not substitutes for safe sleep arrangements.