SIDS: How You Can Reduce The Risk
Losing a precious, much-wanted child to SIDS is unthinkably tragic – but there are ways to dramatically lower the risk
It’s hard to imagine anything more devastating than losing a baby to SIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the diagnosis made when an otherwsie healthy baby dies suddenly, for no apparent reason. In some SIDS cases – less than half – a pre-existing medical condition is later found to be the cause, but for many parents, tragically, they will never truly know the exact cause of their baby’s death. Thanks to highly successful public awareness campaigns, SIDS is now rare – but it remains the most common cause of death in newborn babies.
What is SIDS?
No one knows exactly why babies die of SIDS, though research has suggested that some babies might have a problem with the part of the brain that controls breathing and waking. For these babies, if their breathing is slightly restricted, they do not respond, leading to suffocation. Most often, SIDS occurs when a baby is thought to be sleeping – at night in their own cot, in a pram, or even while a parent is holding them. Most – up to 90 per cent – of SIDS cases occur in the first six months of a child’s life, and the risk falls as your baby grows older. After the first year, very few babies die of SIDS.
Reducing the risk: safe sleeping
The best way to lower the risk of SIDS is to always practise safe sleeping. This means:
- Sleeping your baby on her back from birth, not on the tummy or her side
- Sleeping your baby with her head and face uncovered
- No smoking around your baby – before or after birth
- Following the safe sleeping rules for day and night sleeping
- Sleeping baby in his own safe sleeping place (ie a cot or bassinet) in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months
- Breastfeeding your baby for at least the first six months, if possible
When the risk is greater
Some babies are at a higher risk of SIDS, through no fault of their own, or their parents. These include boy babies (the ratio of SIDS is about 60:40 boys to girls), babies born before 37 weeks and babies with a birth weight of less than 5.5lb.
When your baby starts to roll
Most babies begin to roll around six months, which can make safe sleeping tricky. If you see that your baby has rolled over to her front and she is younger than six months, you can gently roll her to her back. Babies older than six months are usually able to do this themselves. You don’t need to get up and check your baby’s position throughout the night, as she’s likely to move around quite a bit when she sleeps.
Other risk factors
- Overheating is associated with an increased risk of SIDS. Keep your baby’s room between 60 and 68 degrees and never place your baby’s cot near a radiator, heater or fire. Keep hot water bottles and electric blankets out of your baby’s bed.
- Incorrect sleep position. Always lay your baby with his feet at the end of his cot, so he can’t then wriggle down underneath his blankets. If your baby wears a sleeping bag, ensure it fits well so your baby can’t slide down inside it.
- Incorrect sleeping areas. Don’t place your baby to sleep in waterbeds, sleeping bags, baby nests or fleeces – use a firm, flat mattress only.
Creating hope from tragedy
In 1991, Bill Schmid and his wife, Cathy, welcomed their first child, a little girl named Haley. Just eight weeks later, they would say goodbye to her – Haley had passed away, and the apparent cause was SIDS. It was a tragic, life-changing event that could have spun Bill and his wife into a life of isolation. Instead, it was the catalyst for forming their company, HALO, which makes safe sleeping sacks for infants and educates parents on the risks of SIDS.
You lost Haley in 1991. What was the information about SIDS at that time?
“There was very little SIDS information. That all changed the next year with the advent of the Back To Sleep campaign. As that was rolled out there was a great deal of publicity and [people started to understand the] reasons for the changes that were being recommended. Over the last 25 years research has furthered our understanding of SIDS and SUID (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death) dramatically… though there are still unknowns.”
Tell us about creating HALO – something so positive – out of such a tragic, life-altering event. How did you get the idea?
“My background as an engineer involved airflow and, as mentioned previously, with the coverage surrounding the Back To Sleep campaign the leading theory for [the cause of SIDS] was carbon dioxide rebreathing, which can occur when a baby turns facedown into their bedding. Given my experience, I believed we could prevent this rebreathing from occurring by creating airflow throughthe sleep surface. This led to the HALO Sleep System crib mattress which was very effective at reducing CO2, but proved difficult to market (in those pre-internet days). I had no idea if it was going to be successful when we began development, but my wife, Cathy, and I believed we needed to do whatever we could to try and prevent other parents from going through what we experienced with Haley.”
How do the HALO products help to prevent SIDS?
“Our SleepSack swaddles and wearable blankets reduce the risk of suffocation from loose blankets and our Bassinest Swivel Sleeper makes it easier than ever for Mom to put her baby in his own, separate sleep space – also reducing the risk of accidental suffocation.”
Tell us about the company’s educational arm, Halo Safer Way to Sleep. How did this come about?
“The Safer Way to Sleep program (or Standard of Care as we reference it with hospitals) began with the realization that hospitals were telling parents what they should do when they go home for safer infant sleep, but weren’t modeling that same behavior in the hospital. Research has shown that what parents see being done by the nurses during their brief stay in hospital is what they remember – not what they were told. Thus, modeling appropriate behavior is the key to reinforcing the safe sleep message – and the nurses demonstrate safe sleep techniques on your own newborn. Our goal is to help hospitals model safe sleep behavior through the use of our products and free educational literature. We currently partner with nearly 1500 hospitals across North America.”
You must meet a lot of very grateful parents in your work.
“We do. Every week we hear from moms and dads who thank us for developing products that have made their life easier and given them peace of mind. That is music to our ears!”
Visit for Halosleep.com a Sleep Safety Checklist.
Interviews, stories, and guides on thetot.com contain information that is general in nature and should not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical condition or concern or plan on trying a new diet, supplement or workout, it’s best to first consult with your physician or a qualified health professional.
- Wondering what your baby should wear to sleep? See these simple tips on baby sleepwear to help your baby (and you) get a good night’s rest.
- Desperate to figure out how to get your baby and/or toddler to go to sleep and stay asleep? (Us too!) In this guide, Health we are 11 tried and trusted sleep hacks.