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Sids and Your Baby

What is SIDS?

SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS rarely occurs before 2 weeks or after 6 months of age. Most deaths occur in children who are between 2 months and 4 months of age.

The number of SIDS deaths has declined significantly in recent years, thanks to research that has identified simple measures parents can take to greatly reduce their child's risk. The most important of these measures involves placing infants to sleep on their backs instead of their stomachs.

Many parents find it very difficult to get their baby to sleep on the back. Most of the time, this difficulty is due to a startle reflex infants have called the Moro reflex. The Moro reflex is a normal reflex for an infant when he or she is startled or feels like they are falling. The infant will fling out his or her arms sideways with the palms up and the thumbs flexed. This reflex can be activate while sleeping if your child is dreaming. The flinging out of the arms while asleep can startle your child awake, upsetting him or her in the process.

Swaddling, a vital component of Dr. Karp's method, helps your baby feel more secure and allows you to place, an otherwise unwilling baby, on his or her back, instead of the stomach. The swaddling gives your baby a safe secure feeling, as if you are holding them, and will limit any of the sudden movements which can cause your baby to startle awake.

Swaddling makes is easier to place your baby in a safer, recommended, sleep position which reduces the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Facts About SIDS

Doctors and nurses do not know what causes SIDS, but they do know:
  • SIDS is the leading cause of death in babies after 1 month of age.

  • Most SIDS deaths happen in babies who are between 2 and 4 months old.

  • More SIDS deaths happen in colder months.

  • Babies placed to sleep on their stomachs are much more likely to die of SIDS than babies placed on their backs to sleep.

  • African American babies are 2 times more likely to die of SIDS than white babies.

What Can I Do to Help Lower the Risk of SIDS?

Even though there is no way to know which babies might die of SIDS, there are some things that you can do to make your baby safer.

  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, even for naps. This is the safest sleep position for a healthy baby to reduce the risk of SIDS.

  • Studies have shown that breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first four months are less likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than babies who breastfed for shorter time periods or not at all.

  • Place your baby on a firm mattress, such as in a safety-approved crib.**

  • Research has shown that placing a baby to sleep on soft mattresses, sofas, sofa cushions, waterbeds, sheepskins, or other soft surfaces can increase the risk of SIDS.

    **For more information on crib safety guidelines, call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772 or visit their web site at

  • Remove soft, fluffy and loose bedding and stuffed toys from your baby's sleep area.
    Make sure you keep all pillows, quilts, stuffed toys, and other soft items away from your baby's sleep area.

  • Make sure your baby's face and head stay uncovered during sleep.
    Keep blankets and other coverings away from your baby's mouth and nose.

To help reduce the risk of SIDS, the only things that should be in your baby's crib are a firm clean mattress, a secure fitting crib sheet, a blanket (if you use one) and your baby.

If you do use blankets, you may want to consider using a baby sleep sack. The BeddieBye Zip-Around Safety Blanket allows you to place your infant on the blanket and zip it up around him or her without waking your baby. The shoulder straps then can be securely velcroed to make sure the blanket will stay put, making sure that no part of the blanket is able to accidentally cover your baby's face, which can increase the risk of sids.

  • Do not allow smoking around your baby.
    Don't smoke before or after the birth of your baby and make sure no one smokes around your baby.

  • Don't let your baby get too warm during sleep.
    Keep your baby warm during sleep, but not too warm. Your baby's room should be at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult. Too many layers of clothing or blankets can overheat your baby.

  • Make sure everyone who cares for your baby knows to place your baby on his or her back to sleep.

  • Talk to childcare providers, grandparents, babysitters and all caregivers about SIDS risk.

Babies Sleep Safest on Their Backs.

One of the easiest ways to lower the risk of SIDS is to put your baby on his or her back to sleep, even for naps. This is new advice. Until a few years ago, doctors told mothers to place babies on their stomachs to sleep. Research now shows that fewer babies die of SIDS when they sleep on their backs.

In fact, before the Back to Sleep campaign began to recommend back sleeping as the best way to reduce SIDS, more than 5,000 babies in the U.S. died from SIDS every year. But now, as the Back to Sleep message spreads and more babies sleep on their backs, the number of babies who die of SIDS is under 3,000 a each year.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sleep Position

Q. Is there a risk of choking when my baby sleeps on his or her back?

A. No, babies automatically swallow or cough up fluids. Doctors have found no increase in choking or other problems in babies sleeping on their backs.

Q. What about side sleeping?

A. To keep your baby safest when he or she is sleeping, always use the back sleep position rather than the side position. Babies who sleep on their sides can roll onto their stomachs. A baby sleeping on his or her stomach is at greater risk of SIDS.
Some infants may have health conditions that require them to sleep on their stomachs.

If you are unsure about the best sleep position for your baby, be sure to talk to your doctor or nurse.

Some products claim to be designed to keep a baby in one position. These products have not been tested for safety and are NOT recommended.

Q. Are there times when my baby can be on his or her stomach?

A. Yes, place your baby on his or her stomach for "tummy time," when he or she is awake and someone is watching. When the baby is awake, tummy time is good because it helps your baby's neck and shoulder muscles get stronger.

Q. Will my baby get "flat spots" on his or her head from back sleeping?

A. For the most part, flat spots on the back of the baby's head go away a few months after the baby learns to sit up. Tummy time, when your baby is awake, is one way to reduce flat spots. Another way is to change the direction you place your baby down to sleep. Doing this means the baby is not always sleeping on the same side of his or her head. If you think your baby has a more serious problem, talk to your doctor or nurse.

For more information about the Back to Sleep campaign,
call toll - free, 1-800-505-CRIB (2742)

Or write to: Back to Sleep/NICHD, 31 Center
Drive, Room 2A32, Bethesda, MD, 20892-2425.

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