A few days ago, I was talking with two moms about SIDS. One of them brought up an interesting point: there are so many tips to help reduce the risk of SIDS, but how many tips can an exhausted, emotionally depleted parent really follow?
Take for example this tip: Put your child to sleep on a firm, properly fitted sleep surface – such as a mattress in a crib or bassinet – covered by a fitted sheet.
“I get that,” said one of the mothers. “But what happens when you lay your child down and they immediately start screaming? There are only so many days and nights that you can pace around while your child sleeps in your arms. Eventually, someone is going to fall asleep holding that baby.”
It’s true, and it got me thinking: What other SIDS risk-reducing tips create potential challenges for parents? What about the families who don’t have thermostat-controlled heat (during a cold snap), or air-conditioning (during a heat wave)? What about the mother who simply cannot breastfeed?
The reality is that we still don’t know what causes SIDS and why some infants are more vulnerable than others. While many families try to follow SIDS risk reduction guidelines, many fall short because of uncontrollable circumstances or complete hopelessness and exhaustion. Babies will do that to you, and if you fall into that category you are not alone!
From a sleep teaching perspective, my goal is to help families establish healthy sleep habits and avoid making potentially unsafe choices. For example, the child who always cries when put on their backs to sleep? I can help parents work through that. I have tips for helping keep a baby appropriately warm or cool during fluctuations in the weather. But, a mother’s ability or desire to breastfeed is certainly out of my control.
Until we know more about SIDS, there will always be unavoidable circumstances. Even families practicing the safest sleep practices may fall victim to SIDS. And to be clear, I am not advocating that sleep teaching will reduce the risk of SIDS.
I think the takeaway here is that, given our currently limited understanding of SIDS, trying to control as much as you can is better than controlling nothing at all. Since providing these tips to parents over the course of 20-30 years, healthcare providers and researchers have seen a decline in the overall number of U.S. SIDS cases. Overall, the risks are still considered small, but certainly not ignorable.
For additional information about SIDS and what you can do to help keep your child safe during sleep, visit https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sts/Pages/default.aspx, or consult with your child’s healthcare provider.