Every parent knows about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It's rare, and by definition, SIDS has no known cause. A very small percent of babies do die during sleep in his or her first year for no apparent reason. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that nearly 2,500 babies die from SIDS each year in the US. The best way to decrease baby's risk is to always keep him or her in a safe environment, including while sleeping... which is often!
Lay baby on his or her back to sleep
The AAP recommends putting babies to sleep on his or her back. Studies show that more babies die when put to sleep on his or her stomach. We don't totally understand why this is, but it's simply a fact that babies are safer on his or her back. Tummy time is fine when babies are awake (and important for exercise and development), but not for unsupervised sleep.
Get a good crib and firm mattress
Make sure your crib complies with current safety standards and has a firm mattress and well-fitting sheet.
Avoid fluffy bedding – including bumpers
You may think bumper pads are cute, but the AAP advises against using them at all. While bumpers seem like a way to keep baby safe, studies found that they can suffocate, entrap and even strangle babies during sleep. There's also no evidence that says bumpers prevent injuries. Basically, stay away from anything that your baby could get trapped under when he or she wiggles around.
Take everything out of the crib
Don't worry about using special pillows and equipment to make baby comfy—he or she is just fine flat on his or her back. Never cover baby's head with a blanket, avoid loose-fitting PJ's, and keep cuddly toys, blankets, pillows and stuffed animals out of the crib. If you want to use a light blanket to swaddle, that’s fine, but nothing else should be in the crib.
Same room, different bed
While you may want to cuddle with baby at night, this isn’t the best idea. Bed-sharing can expose your baby to additional risks, such as suffocation, asphyxia, entrapment, falls and strangulation, since the situation does not meet sleep safety standards. One study found that 13 percent of the surveyed SIDs victims died while bed-sharing. Another found that though breastfeeding helps reduce baby's SIDS risk, co-sleeping does not. The AAP does recommend room-sharing, where baby sleeps in the same room but on a separate surface. There is evidence that this arrangement decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent, since a parent can keep a closer eye on baby.
Turn down the temp
Don't let baby get overheated—he or she is just fine covered with a light blanket or a sleep sack. Studies show that heated bedrooms increase SIDS risk by about 4.5 percent, compared to non-heated rooms. Keep the room between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit to keep baby comfortable and safe.
Be sure to place the crib somewhere smoke-free. In fact, keeping baby away from smoke in general is the best idea—especially when he or she is still in the womb. Researchers have found that smoking during pregnancy nearly doubles the chance of SIDS for babies.
Seats are for sitting
SIDS used to be called "crib death," so some parents mistakenly believe that putting baby to sleep on a bed, couch or bassinet will prevent it. This is a myth—an approved crib is the safest place for a baby.
Even if baby falls asleep in the car seat or stroller, it’s best to transfer him or her to a crib (yes, even if you’re risking waking them up) if he or she will be asleep for a while. Because babies have poor head control, sleeping while sitting up might increase the risk of upper airway obstruction and oxygen desaturation.
Reducing baby's risk of SIDS doesn’t have to cost money—it's just about attention to details. Remember—even though SIDS is rare, when it's your baby, you’ll want to do everything you can to prevent this from happening.