SIDS: Every New Parent’s Greatest Fear

healthy babyDear Mr. Dad: A few years ago, my sister’s three-month old infant died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. My baby is now the same age, and I’m in a panic worrying that the same thing will happen to him. I’m not even sure I understand what SIDS is and what the risk factors are. More importantly, is there anything my wife and I can do keep my son from suffocating to death?

A: In the U.S., around 4,000 babies die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome every year—that’s about one death per thousand births. That makes SIDS the most common cause of death of children between one week and one year old. Before we get to risk factors and how to reduce them, we need to clear up a big misconception: SIDS is not “suffocating to death.” According to First Candle (firstcandle.org), SIDS is “the sudden, unexpected death of an apparently healthy baby under one year of age,” whose death remains unexplained even after an autopsy.

Unfortunately, despite millions of dollars spent on research, there’s no consensus on what causes SIDS. However, many experts believe that the most likely culprit is the baby’s failure to wake up when a breathing problem (such as sleep apnea) happens during sleep. There aren’t any medical tests than can reliably identify high-risk babies. But here are some of the known risk factors.

  • Certain types of brain abnormalities increase SIDS risk.
  • SIDS is most common in babies two to four months old. Ninety percent of deaths happen to babies under six months.
  • SIDS takes more boys than girls. Multiple-birth babies and preemies are also at higher risk.
  • African American and American Indian babies are more likely than white babies to die of SIDS.
  • It’s more common in cold weather when respiratory infections are more likely.
  • It’s more common in families where one or both parents smoke, share a bed with their baby, put the baby to sleep on his or her stomach, overdress the baby, or cover him or her with fluffy bedding.

Despite all those risk factors, SIDS remains unexplained, which means that most babies who succumb to it don’t fall into any of the above categories. There’s no surefire way to prevent SIDS. But there are a number of proven ways to reduce the risks.

  • Put your baby to sleep on his back. Until about 1994, doctors thought that babies who slept on their back would choke on their vomit if they spit up. It turns out that babies are smart enough to turn their heads. SIDS deaths are more than 40% lower now than before the recommendations changed.
  • Don’t smoke and don’t let anyone who does near your baby. Babies exposed to cigarette smoke (even before birth) are at high risk for SIDS. According to the CDC, chemicals in cigarette smoke may interfere with babies’ ability to regulate their breathing.
  • Don’t overdress the baby. A number of studies show that overheated babies can fall into a deep sleep that’s hard to wake from.
  • Put the baby to sleep on a firm mattress: no pillows, fluffy blankets, plush sofas, waterbeds, shag carpets, or beanbags.
  • Give your baby a pacifier at bedtime. A number of studies show that pacifier use greatly reduces SIDS risk. That may be because it helps keep airways open or because pacifier-sucking babies may sleep less deeply. But does it really matter why?
  • Encourage your wife to breastfeed. Research shows that breastfed babies are 60% less likely than formula-fed ones to die from SIDS. They also tend to be lighter sleepers. Plus, breastmilk strengthens the baby’s immune system, which is always a good thing.
  • Don’t panic. SIDS is a devastating, horrible experience for any parent, but try to remember that 999 out of 1,000 babies don’t die of it.

Photo credit: Unsplash.com/Giu Vicente

Love is Not Enough + More Love (Less Panic)

Jenny Lexhed, author of Love is Not Enough.
Topic:
A mother’s memoir of autism, madness, and hope.
Issues: Coping with a child’s autism diagnosis; trying to find the best treatment among competing theories and approaches; the importance of taking breaks, getting enough sleep, and self-care.

Claude Knobler, author of More Love (Less Panic).
Topic:
Lessons learned about life and parenting after adopting a child from Ethiopia.
Issues: The difference between influence and control; why worrying doesn’t help; how less than perfect may be perfect enough; learning perspective from a piñata and mushy food.

Reducing Screen Time–Even Just a Little–Makes a Big Difference

mrdad - screen time ripple effectDear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have an 11-year-old who’s very tech savvy and spends a lot of time on her phone and computer. A lot of experts—you included—talk about how we parents should cut back on our kids screen time. That sounds like a great idea, except that we both work full time and are exhausted when we get home, and neither of us has the energy to get into a battle with our daughter. We tried limiting her screen time, but after a few weeks, we didn’t see any difference in her behavior or her grades. Is there really any point in forcing the issue? Our home seems a lot more peaceful when don’t bug our daughter.

A: I love technology, and I’m constantly amazed at the marvelous things it allows us to do. But when it comes to kids (and many adults), there can be too much of a good thing. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that children spend an average of seven hours per day in front of some kind of screen (TV, computer, phones, and other devices). In addition, quite a bit of research indicates that there’s a direct correlation between screen time and obesity, eating disorders, poor academic performance, and other problems.

In our gut, most parents understand that we need to monitor our children’s screen time, but given how pervasive screens are in our daily life, limiting them is really hard. What makes it even harder is that, as you pointed out, it doesn’t produce immediate benefits. As a result, we can get frustrated, question why we’re trying in the first place, and simply give up rather than risk getting sucked into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
[Read more…]

The Happy Sleeper + Building Resilience

Julie Wright, co-author of The Happy Sleeper.
Topic:
A science-backed guide to helping your baby get a good night’s sleep
Issues: Babies already know how to sleep—parents don’t need to “train” them; how to be sensitive and nurturing, but also clear and structured so babies and young children can develop the skills to self-soothe, fall asleep independently, through the night, take healthy naps, develop natural sleep patterns for day and night.

Kenneth Ginsburg, author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens.
Topic:
Giving kids roots and wings
Issues: The effects of stress and how to foster resilience; grit: the character trait that drives performance; building competence and confidence; the importance of connection, character, and contribution; coping with difficulties and taking care of oneself; increasing kids’ sense of control and independence.

A Revolutionary Sleep Training Method

Lewis Jassey, co-author of The Newborn Sleep Book.
Topic:
A revolutionary method for training your newborn to sleep through the night.
Issues: The importance of sleep for both baby and family; the myths and truths about baby sleep; why babies wake up crying (hint: it’s not always because they’re hungry); the Jassey method of sleep training.

Finding Your Inner Parenting Perfection + Get Your Newborn to Sleep through the Night

Roma Khetarpal, author of The Perfect Parent.
Topic:
How to use your inner perfection to connect with your kids.
Issues: Why we all need a parenting makeover; how perfectly happy, relaxed individuals become stressed out parents; how we empower our children when we understand ourselves; what defines good communication between parent and child; the importance of treating children as individuals, listening to them, and understanding what they’re saying.

Lewis Jassey, co-author of The Newborn Sleep Book.
Topic:
A revolutionary method for training your newborn to sleep through the night.
Issues: The importance of sleep for both baby and family; the myths and truths about baby sleep; why babies wake up crying (hint: it’s not always because they’re hungry); the Jassey method of sleep training.