by Dr Harvey Karp
Incidences of sudden unexpected death in infancy (including SIDS) in Australia have plummeted over the last 30 years, dropping from roughly 500 babies dying annually to 130 today. While that’s undoubtedly a move in the right direction, that still means that 130 babies are dying each year and that’s 130 too many.
The good news? We have the power to reduce that number by up to 95% by rethinking personal habits (like smoking) and some key baby-care practices (like where we put babies to sleep).
While this is all very doable, a 2020 report in BMC Pediatrics found that only 13% of families routinely practice all recommended safe-sleeping behaviours, such as always placing their precious babies to sleep on their back. This just goes to show that, no matter the progress we’ve made reducing infant death, we need to do better.
Here, three changes parents and caregivers can make right now to lessen their baby’s chance for SUDI.
Change where Baby sleeps
Babies need their own safe sleep space for all naps and nights. And that “safe sleep space” always means a baby cot or bassinet with a firm, flat, and well-fitting mattress. Your little one should never snooze in a bed, on the sofa, or in a chair next to you or any caregiver. This type of co-sleeping is responsible for a “considerable” proportion of SUDI occurrences, according to Red Nose, Australia’s leading authority on safe sleep. While sleeping with your baby in the same sleep space is dangerous, sleeping with your baby in the same room in a bassinet or SNOO Smart Sleeper for the first 6 to 12 months is recommended and encouraged. Doing so can reduce your sweet baby’s risk of SUDI by 50%.
Adjust how Baby sleeps
Babies need to be placed on their back for both day and night sleep. Doing this one thing has substantially contributed to the 85% reduction in SUDI since the 1990s. However, since even the youngest babies can manage to roll to an unsafe sleep position, consider using SNOO, which has a special swaddle that keeps babies safely on their backs…so they can’t roll into those risky positions.
While your little one is happily back-sleeping, be sure to ban bulky bedding, blankets, toys, pillows, and bumpers from the cot, all of which contribute to suffocation and SUDI. And save the
cute baby hats for outdoor jaunts. Covering your baby’s head during sleep increases their chance of overheating, which contributes to SUDI. The safest way to ensure your bub is cozy and comfortable as they snooze is to opt for a swaddle or a baby sleeping bag that’s well-fitted and hood-free, such as Sleepea, the 5-Second Swaddle.
Change your habits
Keep your baby in a smoke-free environment before they arrive…and throughout their lives. A 2019 study in the journal Pediatrics found that smoking during pregnancy doubles an infant’s risk of SUDI. The more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk. On the flip side, risk decreases if mums-to-be quit or cut back on their cigarette habit. But please don’t think you are in the clear to light up again once your baby is born. Newborns exposed to maternal secondhand smoke have nearly 2.5 times the risk of SUDI compared to infants who weren’t exposed.
Another potential life-saving habit: Breastfeeding. Nursing for at least two months cuts a baby’s risk of SUDI almost in half, according to an international study. And, the longer babies are breastfed, the greater the protection and combo feeding with breastmilk and baby benefit, too.
In the end, we don’t 100% know what causes all cases of SUDI. But the latest evidence shows that having your baby sleep on their back, in their own bare sleep space, are some of the most effective strategies for keeping little one’s safe. That—plus giving breastfeeding a go, even for a couple of months, and quitting smoking—all adds up to a happier, healthier, and safer baby.