If you have a baby at home, it is essential to know about safe sleeping positions and tips to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS risk, which claims nearly 2,500 lives every year in the US. Around 80% of sudden and unexpected infant deaths are caused due to SIDS and the most effective way to avoid the risk is to make a healthy baby, less than a year old, sleep on its back i.e., in the supine position.
Sleeping Practices That Could Lead To Sudden Unexpected Death In Infancy (SUDI)
SUDI includes both SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. Here are a few practices that could lead to SUDI:
- Making the baby sleep on the stomach or side.
- Putting the baby to sleep on soft surfaces such as mattress, sofa, waterbed, pillow, or lamb’s wool, either with or without a parent.
- Covering the baby’s head or face with bedding, which may cause accidental suffocation and overheat.
- Smoking during pregnancy or after childbirth.
The Good And Bad Positions For A Baby To Sleep
It is essential to learn about safe and unsafe sleeping positions for a baby to deal with the above risks.
1. Sleep on back
Healthy babies born full-time should be placed on their backs for naps, short periods of rest, and sleep at night.
- ‘Sleep on the back’ position was found to lessen the SIDS risk in babies as it keeps airways open.
- The US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) labeled this as the best sleeping position for babies.
- Since the American Academy of Pediatrics made the ‘back-to-sleep’ recommendation in 1992, the SIDS rate has dropped more than 50%. The ‘back-to-sleep’ recommendation was later campaigned as ‘safe to sleep’.
Risks Involved In ‘Sleep On Back’ Position
If infants are placed on the back for a long time in the same position, it could lead to ‘positional plagiocephaly’, a case of flattened or misshapen head and ‘brachycephaly’, the flattening of the back of the skull. The shape will become normal by the time they turn one year and rarely requires any treatment.
Simple reposition techniques can be employed to avoid such conditions. They include:
- Increasing ‘tummy time’ of the baby when awake
- Making the baby rest on the other side of the head rather than the flattened side.
- Cutting down the time spent by babies in carriers or car-seaters.
- Getting more ‘cuddle time’.
- Changing the direction of the baby in the crib so that he does not tend to view the same things in one direction always.
2. Sleep on stomach
Several theories discourage parents from making a baby sleep on the stomach because:
- It could put pressure on a baby’s jaw reducing the airway and restricting breath.
- If the baby sleeps on the stomach i.e., in the prone position, he may be lying with his face very close to the sheets and keeps breathing the same air.
- The baby could suffocate if he sleeps on the stomach on a very soft mattress.
- He could breathe in microbes present on the mattress.
Are There Any Cases Where Babies Can Sleep On Stomach?
In rare cases, due to a medical condition, doctors may advise parents to make the baby sleep on the stomach rather than the back.
- A few physicians believe that sleeping on stomach could be good for babies with severe gastroesophageal reflux or certain upper-airway malformations like Pierre Robin Syndrome, which lead to acute airway obstruction episodes. However, no recent study supported or refuted the benefits. Healthcare providers should consider the potential benefits and risks before recommending this position.
- The danger of vomiting was the most important argument for making the baby to sleep on its stomach, as doctors used to believe that it would be dangerous if the baby vomits while sleeping on the back. They used to think that babies may choke due to lack of sufficient strength to turn the head. However, babies sleeping on their backs have no difficulty turning their heads if they’re sick.
- Also, you can make a colicky baby sleep on the stomach to relieve them of gas. However, do not do it immediately after feeding him but give some gap between the feed and the sleep.
3. Sleep On The Side
It is unsafe for babies to sleep on the side because they may end up on the tummy, increasing the risk of SIDS.