Safe Sleep

The top four things you need to do now to help reduce your baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome.


Here's the good news: Ever since the 1994 launch of the Back to Sleep campaign, which instructs parents to put infants to sleep on their backs, the number of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) cases has decreased by more than 50 percent. The bad news is that SIDS is still the leading cause of death in babies ages 1 month to 12 months, with more than 2,300 U.S. infants dying from SIDS every year.

A study published in Pediatrics found that more than 96 percent of these babies were exposed to known risk factors, such as tummy sleeping or tobacco smoke. And according to research recently presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada, many families aren't following safe sleeping recommendations, like putting their babies to sleep on their stomachs.

Brush up on the best ways to protect your baby with these safe-sleep basics:

1. Put your baby to sleep on her back. This is the single most important action you can take to diminish your child's SIDS risk. Make sure caregivers do this, too.

2. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. A study published in Addiction found that the number of babies who die of SIDS surges by 33 percent on New Year's Day. Researchers suspect that it's related to drinking. "Increased alcohol consumption can lead to increased carelessness," says study author David Phillips, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. The study also found a slight rise in SIDS cases just after July 4, a barbecue-and-beer fest for many Americans.

As for cigarettes, research shows that when a mother smokes during pregnancy, she puts her baby at up to a fivefold increased risk of SIDS. A baby's exposure to second- hand smoke after he's born also greatly increases the odds.

3. Provide a safe sleep environment. SIDS deaths are reduced when you and your baby sleep in the same room. Opt for infant beds that attach to your own, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Also make sure your baby has a firm sleep surface free of crib bumpers, loose pillows, quilts, blankets and toys that can inhibit breathing. Using a fan in the room where the baby sleeps has also been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS.

4. Give your baby a pacifier. Research has shown that pacifier use at sleep time is linked to a lower rate of SIDS. (If your baby refuses, don't force the issue.) The AAP recommends delaying "pacie" use until an infant is 1 month old so that breastfeeding can become firmly established first.

Breastfeeding bonus: Researchers found that the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was 60 percent lower in babies who were breastfed any amount for any length of time and more than 70 percent lower for those babies who were breastfed exclusively for any length of time. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding for tips.

Want to make sure your baby is sleeping right? Swaddling is a great option: