According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 3,500 US infants die suddenly and unexpectedly each year. The deaths usually occur during sleep without warning and, when all known possible causes of death are excluded, are diagnosed as sudden unexpected infant death syndrome (SUIDS).
The passing of a child from SUIDS is a devastating tragedy to befall any parent, particularly as experts claim that these deaths often happen due to an unsafe sleeping environment. The innocuous comforter or cuddly toy placed in a baby’s crib for decoration can, they say, be the culprit in accidental suffocation. Equally, while you may be concerned about keeping your baby warm, adding extra blankets or too many clothes may lead to fatal overheating in a newborn.
While there is now greater awareness of the different dangers in the infant sleep environment, particularly since the Back to Sleep / Safe to Sleep public education campaign aimed at reducing the risk of SIDs was first initiated in the US two decades ago, parents and caretakers would still do well to educate themselves on all precautions they can take to ensure, as best they can, the safety of their little one while he or she sleeps.
Adhering to simple guidelines such as avoiding overheating a baby while they snooze, placing the infant on his or her back to sleep, maintaining room temperature at a level that’s comfortably warm for adults, keeping toys, blankets, and other loose objects out of the crib, and never smoking around an infant, can make a difference to both baby’s wellbeing and a parent or caretaker’s sense of control.
As with everything though, there are always some grey areas. For example, as SUIDS primarily occurs between the ages of 2-4 months, a common piece of advice from many health practitioners is to avoid co-sleeping with a newborn. A 2012 study published by the Michigan Public Health Institute, which examined 3,136 sleep-related SUIDS studies found that only 25% of the infants were sleeping in a crib or on their back when they were found, while 70% were on a surface not intended for infant sleep, such as an adult bed, and of those 64% were sharing their sleeping space with a parent or someone else.
Yet other medical experts, as well as parents fully attuned to the risks of SUIDS, have argued that sharing a bed with baby (co-sleep) promotes a stronger bond between parent and child as well as healthy breastfeeding habits. Additionally, they suggest that the inherent safety in co-sleeping depends on who is involved, the conditions of how the sleep-time happens, and how it is actually practiced. Interestingly, in Japan where co-sleeping to nurse babies is widely practiced and a cultural norm, rates of SUIDS are some of the lowest in the world.
Because there are possibly many causes of SUIDS and in most cases there are unique circumstances that make it difficult to generalize, the medical community has been hesitant to recomment the use of baby monitors to protect infants against SUIDS. In fact, while many current smart monitors provide a sense of security to parents, according to a 2014 editorial in the British Medical Journal, parents need to be aware that, for the most part, these monitors have no proven role in preventing SUIDS. Remmo® openly highlight the fact on its website that it is not a life-saving medical device but rather a device to reassure parents by allowing them to view their child remotely and be alerted should their baby’s breathing motions stop. Remmo should not be used with babies who have pre-existing conditions that may affect their breathing and babies should always be put to sleep according to the guidelines of medical professionals. Unfortunately, other baby monitors are not so transparent and open to criticism for playing on the fears of new moms and dads.
The truth is for many parents being able to check remotely on their child while they nap is essential and a far better solution for peace-of-mind than regularly stealing into the nursery to listen to their baby’s breathing through the bars of the crib. A baby monitor may not be a medical instrument but if it can serve as an extra pair of eyes and ears then it’s a device many parents would agree is worth having.
So though the loss of a child under any circumstances is a tragedy beyond our darkest imaginings, in terms of guarding against SUIDS it appears that assisting in its prevention requires following expert guidelines while also allowing yourself to listen to your own inner wisdom as a parent.
It’s also important to remember that SUIDS is a relatively uncommon occurrence and as long as you maintain a safe sleeping environment for your child there is no reason to agonize over whether they are in peril each time they lie down to nap. You’ll have enough sleepless nights courtesy of your little darling as it is so don’t let any unnecessary worry about exceptional sleep-related dangers keep you wide-awake too.
For more information on SUIDS – check out http://www.cdc.gov/sids/