What all Parents Need to Know About SIDS


Baby sleep safety is once again in the news. In this post, Marie McCormack, M.D., Medical Director of Renown Medical Group, talks about simple precautions every parent can take to keep their babies safe.

It’s every new parent’s nightmare: checking on a sleeping baby only to find the child is not breathing. Not so long ago it became a reality for young mother in central Oklahoma. A call to 911 and a dispatcher who walked her through infant CPR saved the baby’s life. Not all parents are so lucky.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) improved the odds of infant deaths from SIDS by 50 percent with its “Safe to Sleep” (formerly Back to Sleep) campaign initiated in 1994. Yet the number of infant deaths remains high. “According to the CDC, approximately 3,500 infants die of SIDS each year in the United States,” explained Elaine Cudnik, APRN with Renown Health Pediatrics. “It is the leading cause of death in infants 1 month to 1 year of age.”

SIDS, Defined

What exactly is SIDS? “It’s any sudden, unexplained death in a child less than 1 year of age, usually during sleep,” said Cudnik. “We only call it SIDS if all other diagnoses have been ruled out.” SIDS isn’t caused by vomiting, complications from immunizations or choking as some would believe. Most experts agree that SIDS occurs because babies can’t wake themselves when they have trouble breathing.

Certain infants are at higher risk of SIDS. “The latest data from 2008-2012 shows Native American and African-American babies are more than twice as likely to die from SIDS,” noted Cudnik. “Lower birth weight and pre-existing health complications post-delivery can also increase the risk of SIDS.” Boys are at a disadvantage — 3 out of 5 babies who die from SIDS are male. Infants exposed to second-hand smoke are also at risk, and babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy are three times more likely to die of SIDS.

Simple Precautions

But there’s a lot parents can do to protect their children and lower risk of SIDS, starting with putting babies to sleep on their backs. Research has shown babies who sleep on their tummies are 18 times more likely to die of SIDS. On their backs, babies can access fresh air and are less likely to overheat. And “babies have protective mechanisms in their airway that prevent them from choking if they spit up while on their backs,” Cudnik reassured. Once babies can roll over from stomach to back they can choose their own sleeping position, as their brains are alert enough to warn of breathing dangers.

Also, say goodbye to comforters, pillows, stuffed animals and bumper pads in cribs. Blankets and toys can impede breathing, cause strangulation or a baby to overheat. “Avoid anything that could potentially harm the baby or make it difficult for her to breathe easily,” said Cudnik. “A baby should sleep on a firm mattress covered by a fitted sheet in a safety-approved crib.” Keep the room around 68 degrees to prevent the baby from overheating. And don’t cover the baby till age 1 — instead swaddle or use sleep sacks or onesies that cover arms, legs, hands and feet.

Co-sleeping can make life easier for sleep-deprived parents, but it raises SIDS risks. “Your baby should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch or on a chair alone, with you, or anyone else,” said Cudnik. Co-sleeping increases chance of suffocation, strangulation or having an adult inadvertently cut off air supply. However, “the AAP and CDC do recommend ‘co-rooming’ — having the infant sleep in a crib, cradle or bassinet in the parents’ room,” said Cudnik. Co-rooming can reduce a baby’s risk of SIDS by up to 50 percent.

SIDS can be unpredictable, but parents can feel more at ease by taking a few simple precautions. Parents should always consult their pediatrician for advice and the latest information on SIDS. And don’t forget to breastfeed and vaccinate — both lower risk of SIDS by up to 50 percent.

This story was also published in the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Health Source on September 27, 2015.

Marie McCormack, M.D., Medical Director of Renown Medical Group, loves caring for individuals in the Fernley area, especially extended families. As a native Nevadan, Dr. McCormack has deep and lasting ties to the community and enjoys being able to give back as a family practice physician with Renown Health.