When parents talk about babies and sleep, aside from wondering when they can expect to get some, the discussion rightly turns to sleep safety.
Thankfully, since the "back to sleep" campaign kicked off in 1994, the rate of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, has dropped by more than 50 percent. We know that placing infants on their backs is one of the single best precautions to keep babies safe while sleeping.
Now, more than two decades later, we also know there is more to the story. A study published in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics examined SIDS cases and aimed to identify predisposing risk factors.
While they found that infants placed face-down to sleep were still at the most significant risk, factors such as bed-sharing and placing an infant to sleep on an adult mattress emerged as critical risks, as well.
Additionally, the study found that in two-thirds of SIDS cases, at least three risk factors existed. Parents must be able to identify all the variables that can potentially put an infant at risk for SIDS before they can reduce those risks.
Some babies are simply "vulnerable," so adding any outside risk factors such as sleeping face-down, being exposed to secondhand smoke, and bed-sharing will greatly increase the risk for SIDS.
That being said, I know many of you are thinking: Is sharing a bed really dangerous?
Here's the problem: It's often done without safety provisions or much forethought. It's hard to study and can range from extremely dangerous to fairly safe.
For those reasons, all bed-sharing is lumped together and has emerged as a significant risk factor for SIDS and accidental suffocation. Yes, it can be made "safer," but parents must weigh these risks with their commitment and intention to bed-share.
It's most risky in the first six months of life, after which the risk of SIDS drops dramatically.
It cannot be an afterthought or an act of sleep- deprived desperation.
We've all been there, so it's really best to plan ahead.
Here are some tips for safe sleeping.
Do sleep in the same room as your baby but on a separate surface. A bedside co-sleeper is great for ease of breastfeeding and checking on baby.
Do breastfeed if you can, and have your baby vaccinated. These have been shown to be protective against SIDS.
Do place your baby on his or her back to sleep and use a pacifier. "Back to sleep" is paramount in the first year of life, and use of a pacifier has been shown to protect against SIDS.
Do keep soft bedding, pillows, extra blankets and stuffed animals out of your baby's sleeping space.
Now for some "don'ts" for safe sleeping:
Don't smoke. Secondhand smoke is a significant risk factor for SIDS, and smoking while pregnant can predispose your baby to being "vulnerable" to SIDS.
Don't let your baby get overheated. Avoid over-bundling your baby and use an overhead fan in the room that baby sleeps.
Don't use a crib bumper. These have been shown to be a suffocation risk for babies.
Remember, ensuring that your baby is sleeping safely is truly about incorporating all of the safety parameters into a daily sleep routine.
As for getting some sleep? It will come. I promise.