Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant under a year old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The condition -- usually occurring during baby's sleep -- appears most frequently in babies between 2 and 4 months old and is responsible for the most infant deaths in the United States, says the AAP.
The good news is that the rate of SIDS has decreased by more than 40 percent since the AAP's 1992 recommendation that babies be put to sleep on their backs instead of on their stomachs. The AAP also recommends the following measures to help reduce the risk of SIDS:
- Always lay your baby to sleep on his back.
- If your child's doctor determines that you can't place your healthy baby to sleep on his back, put him on his side and extend the lower arm so he'll be less likely to roll onto his stomach. While side sleeping isn't as safe as the supine position, it's preferable to stomach sleeping.
- Place your baby on a firm mattress to sleep -- never on a pillow, waterbed, sheepskin, or other soft surface.
- Don't put fluffy blankets, comforters, stuffed toys, or pillows near your baby.
- Make sure your baby doesn't get too warm while sleeping. Keep the room at a temperature that feels comfortable for an adult in a short-sleeve shirt. To avoid overheating, cover her only with a light blanket that reaches no farther than her shoulders.
- Don't expose your baby to secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke doubles a baby's risk of SIDS.
- Make sure your baby has regular well-baby checkups.
- Breastfeed if possible. While there is no evidence that directly links breastfeeding with a decreased rate of SIDS, breast milk is thought to keep babies healthy.
Reviewed 2/02 by Jane Forester, MD
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