Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) refers to the unexpected death of a child less than one year of age. The loss of a child is a terrible tragedy from which parents almost never completely recover. It is out of the natural order of things for children to die before their parents, a fact which intensifies both the length and severity of grieving when an infant dies.
SIDS is not a rare phenomenon, with 80 babies a year dying in Louisiana. Central Louisiana has the sad distinction of being ranked number one in SIDS (1.9/1,000 live births) out of all of the Louisiana public health regions. Although it is impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of a sudden infant death for unexplained reasons, there are some clear risk factors that can be reduced or eliminated.
First, babies should be placed to sleep on their backs (not on their stomachs), on a firm mattress, without pillows, cushions, toys or bumper pads. This may seem like a sad and unfriendly sleeping environment for the infant, but it is the best and safest one and has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. The infant should be dressed in light clothing in a comfortable (not over-heated) room.
Second, co-sleeping, a tradition in certain families, increases the risk of infant death through unintentional smothering. Some well-intentioned mothers will engage in breast feeding (a very positive action) in the bed while lying down (a poor location). Falling asleep in such a position by an exhausted mother can prove fatal to your infant.
Third, premature and low birth weight babies are more susceptible to SIDS. Every effort should be made to reduce prematurity through appropriate spacing of children, avoiding teenage pregnancy, and eliminating smoking. Young smoking mothers with multiple children are at a particular risk for prematurity and the sudden infant death which might result.
Smoking is also an independent risk factor for SIDS, whether it is the mother or others in the household. Smoking cessation will help not only the adults, but the infant and other children in the household. The state offers a number of programs including the tobacco cessation Quitline (800) QUIT-NOW and www.QuitwithUsLa.org.
Back-to-sleep, no co-sleeping, a firm, empty crib, no smoking, and avoiding teenage pregnancy are the five pillars of reducing SIDS. Perhaps there will always be the rare infant who dies an unexplained death, but we can all do what we can to avoid those risk factors which have been shown to increase it. Even one avoidable infant death is too many.
A Safe Sleep Summit, organized by the Children’s Coalition for Northest Louisiana, will be held at the West Monroe Convention Center on October 19th. Interested parties should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.