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SIDS: education, awareness can be key to safeguarding your infant

October is National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month. SIDS is the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age that cannot be explained. It is the leading cause of death among infants between the ages of one and 12 months.

"While in many ways SIDS is a mystery, we do know that a combination of physical and sleep environmental factors can make an infant more vulnerable to it," says Dr. Matthew Brady, a physician at Castleview Hospital.

While factors may vary from child to child, says Dr. Brady, the following physical factors are associated with SIDS:

Brain abnormalities. Some infants are born with problems that make them more likely to die of SIDS. In many of these babies, the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep doesn't work properly.

Low birth weight. Premature birth or being part of a multiple birth increases the likelihood that a baby's brain hasn't matured completely, so he or she has less reliable control over such automatic processes as breathing and heart rate.

Respiratory infection. Many infants who have died of SIDS have recently experienced a cold, which may contribute to breathing problems.

In addition, several sleep environmental factors are associated with SIDS, such as body positioning and temperature. Help manage these factors by adhering to the following guidelines:

1. Place infants to sleep on their backs, even though they may sleep more soundly on their stomachs. Infants who sleep on their stomachs and sides have a much higher rate of SIDS than infants who sleep on their backs.

2. Place infants to sleep in a baby bed with a firm mattress and nothing in the bed but the baby - no covers, no pillows, no bumper pads, no positioning devices and no toys. Soft mattresses, covers, pillows, bumper pads, positioning devices and toys are associated with the risk for SIDS.

3. Do not place a baby in an adult bed to sleep, and do not fall asleep with a baby on a couch or in a chair.

4. Do not over-clothe an infant while he/she sleeps. Overheating an infant may increase the risk for SIDS. 5. Avoid exposing infants to tobacco smoke. Don't have your infant in the same house or car with someone who is smoking.

6. Breast feed babies whenever possible. Because breast milk decreases the occurrence of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, studies show that breast-fed babies have a lower SIDS rate than formula-fed babies do.

7. Avoid exposing infants to people with respiratory infections. Avoid crowds. Carefully clean anything that comes in contact with the baby. Have people wash their hands before holding or playing with your baby. SIDS often occurs in association with relatively minor respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

8. Offer infants a pacifier. Some studies have shown a lower rate of SIDS among babies who use pacifiers.

9. If a baby has periods of not breathing, going limp or turning blue, contact his/her pediatrician at once. If a baby stops breathing or gags excessively after spitting up, seek medical attention.

Article courtesy Castleview hospital.

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