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How To Keep Your Baby Asleep Safely

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is every parent’s nightmare. Each year, 2,000 babies in the U.S. die during sleep. Over the past two decades the incidence of SIDS has fallen by 50%, after the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Back to Sleep campaign. Putting babies down to sleep on their backs, instead of on their tummies or sides, is safer. But many parents still do not follow this advice.

A report presented at a recent annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies noted that a survey of over 1,000 mothers found that 10% routinely put infants to sleep on their bellies. In addition, 18.5% of the mothers reported sleeping in the same bed with the baby (bed sharing), another risk factor for SIDS.

Another report presented at the same meeting found that fully one-third of parents put babies down to sleep on their stomachs and even more parents of premature babies do so. This is despite the fact that preterm babies are at greater risk for SIDS than full term babies are.

Although the annual rate of SIDS deaths fell dramatically from the start of the Back to Sleep promotion in 1995 to 2000, since 2001 the annual rate has remained virtually the same. SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants between one month and one year of age.

A survey included in the second report found that attention to babies’ sleep position varied by state. Wisconsin mothers were most observant of the need to put babies down on their backs; 81% said this is their standard practice. But in Alabama, the state with the lowest rate of Back to Sleep compliance, only 50% of mothers were careful to put babies to sleep on their backs.

If you are not already observing safe sleep habits with your baby, here are some tips to follow:

  • Always put your baby down for naps or at night on his back.
  • Always put your baby down for naps or at night in her own bed. Don’t put babies to sleep on the couch, in a car seat, or in your own bed.
  • Make certain that your baby’s crib has a firm mattress with a smooth sheet.
  • Don’t use pillows or blankets in your baby’s bed. If you’re worried about your child being cold in the night, dress him in a footed sleeper.
  • Don’t use a crib bumper, stuffed animals, or anything else in your baby’s bed. It should just be the baby and the mattress.
  • Don’t sleep with your baby in your own bed. This runs counter to many who believe that bed sharing supports breast feeding. Those who worry about SIDS suggest that it’s too easy for a baby sleeping in a soft adult bed with pillows, blankets and other people to become trapped and suffocated.
  • When your baby can roll over from her back to her tummy and back again to her tummy, you don’t need to return her to her back as she sleeps. So long as she can turn herself from her tummy to her back, she should be safe.
  • Quit smoking. New studies suggest that not only is second-hand smoke a cause of SIDS but “third-hand smoke” is too. Third-hand smoke is the smoke that lingers on clothing, in hair, on furniture and in the car even after a cigarette is extinguished.

These are simple steps that will ease your mind. When you practice safe sleep habits with your baby, you are doing what you can to prevent SIDS.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.