SIDS prevention is on the mind of every new parent. The thought of losing your precious new baby can be hard to bear, resulting in you checking in on your baby every
ten five minutes, even if you've just finally managed to get him to sleep!
The SIDS guidelines have recently been updated to include a sixth item. The new addition that may not be easy to hear, but it's something we need to know to be truly informed as parents.
6 SIDS Prevention Guidelines
Here are the new, updated SIDS and Kids SIDS prevention guidelines:
1. Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side.
2. Sleep baby with head and face uncovered.
3. Keep baby smoke free before birth and after.
4. Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day.
5. Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult care-giver for the first six to twelve months.
6. Breastfeed baby if you can.
Of course, every mother and every baby has their own unique journey, and sometimes breastfeeding doesn't work out. Study authors didn't present this finding to make mothers feel guilty. But with such a significant statistical difference over a long period of time, it was important that the information came to light.
There has actually been a long history with the breastfeeding and SIDS link, which was first discovered 21 years ago. According to the study review author and safe sleeping expert, Jeanine Young, the feeding link was originally established in 1991. However, a subsequent large study cast doubts on the link. It then took several further studies confirming that formula did increase the risk of SIDS. So it was time to finally cement the evidence into place and incorporate it into SIDS prevention guidelines.
Some snippets from studies highlighting the link are below:
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics (in 2009) concluded: “This study shows that breastfeeding reduced the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by ~50% at all ages throughout infancy. We recommend including the advice to breastfeed through 6 months of age in sudden infant death syndrome risk-reduction messages.”
A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (in 1993) said: “A reduced risk for SIDS in breastfed infants persisted during the first 6 months after controlling for confounding demographic, maternal and infant factors. Infants exclusively breastfed ‘at discharge from the obstetric hospital' and during the last 2 days had a significantly lower risk of SIDS than infants not breastfed… We have shown a substantial association of breastfeeding with a lowered risk for SIDS. This supports the need for more positive promotion and active community support to further enhance the level and length of exclusive breastfeeding.”
How Does Breastfeeding Help With SIDS Prevention?
Breastfed babies usually rouse more frequently and easily than formula fed babies, because breastmilk is easier to digest, so their tummies empty more quickly. Formula is harder for a baby’s gut to process – you may notice some parents claim that formula helps their babies sleep more or longer. While other formula feeding mothers will be quick to deny this, some babies do tend to get wiped out because their gut is working harder to process the harder to digest formula. Long, deep sleep is not what mother nature intended, and this is a SIDS risk. According to studies, “sleeping through” for a baby is 5 hours on average. There is a very good reason for this.
Breast milk also contains immune benefits that cannot be replaced by formula. The peak SIDS risk is around 2-6 months of age – when a baby’s immunity is at its lowest, leaving them more vulnerable to infection.
According to Dr Sears: “Stuffy noses and airways and recurrent respiratory-tract infections are frequent signs of allergies to artificial milk made from cow’s milk or bean milk (such as soy). Breastfeeding helps breathing in two ways: by helping the brain systems that control breathing to mature, and by helping to keep tiny air passages open. It is also interesting to note that breastfeeding infants have higher blood levels of the hormone progesterone, and progesterone stimulates breathing. In summary, babies who get breastmilk breathe better.”
Breastfeeding reduces respiratory and gastro-intestinal infections in children. Studies have shown that 45% of babies that died suddenly and unexpectedly had an illness in the previous two weeks.
Social Implications For Formula Feeding Families
There is no doubt that these new findings will create ripple effects for the social aspect of formula feeding babies. There are many sensitive topics in life where there will always be those people who will judge us for our actions, even if they aren’t known to us at all. Especially if they think we are doing something serious and dangerous, some people will unleash their opinions onto us without thought or care.
If you are a formula feeding parent, the important thing to remember is one person’s view isn’t everyone’s – and what counts is that you did the best you could with what you knew at the time and what resources you had available to you. It's also possible to try re-lactation if you feel this would be okay for you.
Another issue that has come to surface with the new recommendation is the emotions of formula feeding mothers. Some of whom feel that this is yet another reason to make them feel guilty for breastfeeding.
Its important to try to find peace with your decision – be it through counselling or self-help.
The best advice for those who are currently breastfeeding or pregnant, is that it is absolutely crucial to get breastfeeding help at the earliest signs of trouble. Trying to self diagnose, self correct or stop asking for help can have you in a real mess, and the last thing you may end up wanting to do is breastfeed. The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a good start or you can hire an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) who are the gold standard in lactation care.
If you’re pregnant or have a breastfed baby, make sure you touch base with the Australian Breastfeeding Association in some way, ideally become a member, do a course or utilise their helpline (1800 686 268). It can save you lots of stress, pain, frustration or even grief over breastfeeding troubles or your decision to use formula – don't let yourself suffer when help is there.