Unfortunately, about 4,000 of these babies die each year in the United States, and the cause of death for these children is often not obvious or immediately known.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is responsible for nearly half of these deaths. SIDS is the leading cause of all deaths among infants under a year old, and it often occurs when babies are between 2-4 months old. Some people call SIDS "crib death" because many babies who die of SIDS are found in their cribs.
Many years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics identified sleep position as a contributing factor in SIDS deaths, and in 1994 the organization began its popular "Back to Sleep" campaign, which encouraged parents and caregivers to place infants on their backs when putting them down to sleep.
The organization admonished parents and caregivers to reserve "tummy time" for times when infants are awake and closely watched by caretakers. "Back to Sleep" positioning was found to be the most effective action that parents and caretakers could take to reduce the risk of SIDS for children in their care.
Because of the campaign, the rate of SIDS deaths in the United States decreased by more than 50 percent.
Since that time, several other factors that contribute to SIDS have been identified. These factors include physical entrapment in bedding and furniture, suffocation and choking. In response to these newly identified risk factors, the AAP has launched a new SIDS prevention campaign called "Safe Sleep for All Babies."
This campaign encourages caretakers to continue placing infants in the proper sleep position and advises them to also ensure that their child has a safe sleeping environment by removing all choking and strangulation hazards from infants' sleep areas.
Risk-reduction strategies to prevent SIDS
The following strategies should be followed by parents and caregivers to reduce the risk of a child suffering Sudden Infant Death Syndrome:
•Placing infants in a crib or bassinet, in the same room as the parents;
•Avoiding co-sleeping/placing infants in the same bed as adults or other children;
•Placing babies on their backs to sleep, even for short naps;
•Reserving "tummy time" (laying infants on their belly) for when they are awake and someone is watching;
•Using a firm sleep surface, such as a crib mattress covered with a fitted sheet;
•Keeping soft objects like pillows, quilts, bumper pads and stuffed animals out of the crib until infants are older than 12 months;
•Keeping soft objects and loose bedding away from sleep area;
•Making sure babies don't get too hot and keeping the room at a comfortable temperature for an adult;
•Avoiding the use of cribs that are broken, that have missing parts or that have drop-side rails; and
•Keeping infants away from tobacco smoke and places where people smoke.