We still don’t know exactly what causes sudden infant death syndrome. It almost always happens when the baby is asleep. And as mentioned previously, it is very uncommon. It occurs in approximately one in 6000 children. Or 0.016 percent.
There are many things you can do to keep this risk low and make sure your baby is safe.
In the past, sudden infant death syndrome was much more common than today. The number of cases shrank drastically when the standard recommendation changed from suggesting that babies should sleep on their tummies to recommending they sleep on their backs.
• Your baby sleeps safest on his or her back
At about the same time as the shift from stomach to back sleeping became standard, medicine also began to realize that many of the instances of sudden infant death syndrome were due to the pillows and blankets. A lot of fabric in the bed poses a risk. The baby can get tangled in the blanket or find it difficult to breathe because of a pillow.
• Do not have big pillows and heavy blankets around your sleeping baby. Nice pajamas are often enough.
The safest thing for your baby is, according to the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, that your baby sleeps in his or her own bed. If you are like a lot of parents, you might prefer the baby sleep with you in your bed, which is tempting for three main reasons: it is incredibly cozy, it is handy if the child wakes and wants to eat, and there’s a high possibility for the baby to easily sleep safely without waking up on a regular basis when it’s close to you (body heat, scent, etc). The risk though is that you fall asleep and roll over your baby, lay an arm over the baby’s face, or that your blanket lays across the baby’s face.
• Sleep in the same room as your child for the first year of life.
Best is that your baby sleeps in their own bed. However, if your baby sleeps in your bed, see that he or she always lays at the level of your head with you so that your blanket cannot lay over the baby’s face.
It is preferable that your child does not sleep in your bed, but still in your room. The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization for pediatricians in the United States (with 66,000 members), recommends that infants sleep in the same room as their parents during the first year of their life.
• Avoid nicotine.
Do not use nicotine. Neither during the pregnancy or after. Research shows that nicotine makes it harder for the infant to wake up after stopping breathing, according to medical information. Infants periodically have breathing issues, so this is nothing strange.
• Breastfeeding and using a pacifier during the night have statistically been shown to minimize the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Studies have shown that there is a relationship between breastfeeding and reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. A theory is that it depends on breastfeeding reducing the risk of virus infections. Virus infections in turn increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Further studies have showed that the use of a pacifier during the night can minimize the risk of SIDS. The cause is still unclear.
So what does this mean for parents using pods or nests?
Firstly please don’t panic. There is some valid safety concerns based on scientific evidence regarding mattresses, padded bumpers and temperature. Frustratingly, there is no current research relating directly to sleeping pods and nests.
We’re calling for more research to be done, specifically with regards to sleeping pods and nests. However, until we have this, a review of the evidence suggests the following:
- Avoid pods or nests that have soft mattresses
- If you do use your pod or nest, use it only for supervised sleeping so you can check regularly to make sure your baby isn’t overheating or sleeping with their head turned into the padded sides
- Don’t use your pod or nest for unsupervised sleeping (eg at night)
- Don’t use a secondhand pod or nest – the risk is higher if it comes from outside your home
This is particularly important if your baby is premature (born before 37 weeks), was born weighing under 5.5lb (2.5kg), has an upper respiratory infection or you or your partner is a smoker.
If you do use a pod or nest, always follow these guidelines:
- Don’t let your baby sleep in a pod or nest unsupervised. That means only using them for daytime naps when your baby is with you and you can regularly monitor them. Don’t use them for overnight sleeping
- Always place a pod or nest on a flat, firm and stable surface. Don’t tilt or raise any part of it
- Keep your baby in the same room as you
- Regularly check that your baby has not moved their face into the side padding and is not overheating
- Never use loose bedding or let anything cover your baby’s face
- If your baby needs more warmth than their sleepsuit/clothes, use a lightweight baby sleeping bag
- Position your baby with their feet at the foot of the pod or nest, giving as much space as possible between your baby’s head and the padded sides
- And, of course, always put your baby to sleep on their back
Read More about Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) at The Lullaby Trust.