It is a mother's greatest fear - Tucking your baby carefully into her cot, and for no decipherable reason, she does not wake. This phenomenon is called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and is the sudden and inexplicable death of a baby between the ages of one month and one year. No one knows why it happens but only that it can happen when certain number of risk factors co-exist.
It is said that a portfolio of risk is required for SIDS to strike. A typical scenario is this: A young mother (younger than 20 years) with a little (below 2.5kg) or premature baby (born before 36 weeks) places her baby on their stomach to sleep in their cot. Due to experiencing cold weather the young mother dresses her baby in many layers of sleep wear causing the baby to overheat. There is a family member who smokes in the home which may cause the baby's airways to be tight and/or congested.
The best steps you can take as a parents to prevent SIDS is to limit as many of these risk factors as possible.
1. If you or your partner are a smoker STOP. Smoking during pregnancy causes lower birth weights as well as increasing the chance of having a premature baby. Furthermore, after the birth it is not only the smoke that is in the air that is harmful to your baby but also the tobacco and nicotine particles that cling to your hair, clothes, skin and furniture. If you continue to smoke, the only scenario that your baby would be protected is if you smoked outside, completely naked and showered before coming inside, getting dressed and picking up your infant!
2. Use a high quality mattress, mattress protector and linen to create a nest for your baby where air flows and the temperature is easily regulated. The more natural materials such as cotton and bamboo keep your baby warm without stopping air flow. Limit the amount of loose objects found in or near your baby's cot. This includes soft toys and spare blankets that your baby may become tangled up in. Rather roll some blankets or towels around your baby to create a padded nest that still allows your baby some movement. You can also use these blankets to assist your baby to sleep on their back or side. Remember, that the risk of SIDS is highest between 2 and 4 months. Babies who are healthy and strong (have a good weight for their age and have head control) may sleep longer on their stomachs and move into this position on their own while they are sleeping. There is less risk in this case and you may not need to wake them. A sensor pad that monitors baby's temperature and breathing may help you sleep better.
3. Think carefully about where and how your baby sleeps. There is much debate about infants sleeping in a cot versus infants sleeping in their parents beds. The safest solution appears to be a baby sleeping in a cot or nest in or near to their parents bed so that someone can respond to their needs during the night. The logic is that if the baby is coughing or struggling to roll over or overheating then the parent would be more likely to notice if the baby was near by.
Here's to safe sleep for all!