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'Back to Sleep' can save your baby from SIDS

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Column by Diana Leathers, Community Health Educator

The ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign began in 1994 as a way to educate parents, caregivers and health care providers about ways to reduce the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The campaign was named for its primary recommendation to place healthy babies on their backs to sleep.

Placing babies on their backs to sleep reduces the risk for SIDS, also known as "crib death." This campaign is sponsored by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

As the name implies, sudden infant death syndrome is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant who is younger than 1 year old. It's a frightening prospect because it can strike without warning, usually in seemingly healthy babies.  Most SIDS deaths are associated with sleep (hence the common reference to "crib death") and infants who die of SIDS show no signs of suffering. Most conditions or diseases are generally diagnosed by the presence of specific symptoms, however, SIDS diagnoses come only after all other possible causes of death have been ruled out through a review of the infant's medical history and environment. 

This lack of answers is part of what makes SIDS so frightening. SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants 1 month to 1 year old, and claims the lives of about 2,500 each year in the United States. It remains unpredictable despite years of research.

Since the Back to Sleep Campaign started, the percentage of infants placed on their backs to sleep has increased dramatically and the overall SIDS rates have declined by more than 50 percent. The recommendations for this campaign include:

• Always place babies on their backs to sleep. Babies who sleep on their backs are less likely to die of SIDS than babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides.  Placing your baby on his or her back to sleep is the number one way to reduce the risk of SIDS. Place your baby on his or her back every time, for naps and at night.

• Place your baby on a firm sleep surface, such as a safety-approved crib mattress covered with a fitted sheet-Never place a baby to sleep on a pillow, quilt, sheepskin or other soft surfaces.

• Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of your baby's sleep area. Don’t use pillows, blankets, quilts, sheepskins or pillow-like bumpers in your baby's sleep area. Keep all items away from the baby's face.

• Avoid letting your baby overheat during sleep-Dress your baby in light sleep clothing and keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult.

Other potential risk factors include smoking, drinking or drug use during pregnancy, poor prenatal care, prematurity or low birth-weight, mothers younger than 20 and tobacco smoke exposure following birth.

Most deaths due to SIDS occur between 2 and 4 months of age and incidence increases during cold weather. African-American infants are twice as likely and Native American infants are about three times more likely to die from SIDS than Caucasian infants. More boys than girls fall victim to SIDS, as well. For more information on SIDS you may contact the LaRue County Health Department at 358-3844.