In the early 1900s, "crib death" represented a routine reason for child mortality. Back then, about 10 percent of children born alive passed away before age 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Parents would simply, and tragically, find their seemingly healthy babies had died in their cribs, and parents never knew why.
The CDC reports that in 2015, 1,600 babies in the US died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) — a marked decrease from the previous century's SIDS rate. Researchers attribute the decrease to research-based changes in certain aspects of child care, though they don't yet understand all the mechanics of SIDS. Many risk factors relate to the respiratory system; others have to do with inherent factors that make an individual infant more prone to SIDS.
Parents have little or no control over factors such as low Apgar scores, respiratory illness, premature birth, low infant birth weight, male gender, and Native American Indian or African American race.
There are other factors however, that parents can control including using a pacifier at bedtime (once nursing has been established), maintaining a comfortable room temperature that's not overly warm and adhering to safer sleeping conditions, which are by far the most important factors.
The "Back to Sleep" promotion of the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), now known as "Safe to Sleep," raised awareness of SIDS factors that parents can control. Once the program became well-known, SIDs rates plummeted. Here's what they say parents should do:
1. Place babies on their backs, not their stomachs, for bedtime and naps. (Supervised "tummy time" helps prevent flat spots on the head)
2. Eliminate soft baby mattresses in favor of firm mattresses.
3. Avoid soft crib bumpers, stuffed animals and blankets in cribs (warm pajamas or sleep sacks suffice in cold regions).
4. Quit smoking during pregnancy and around the baby after birth.
Some experts also warn that co-sleeping can contribute to SIDS.
Despite decreases in the rate of SIDS, it remains a cause of infant mortality still today. No parent is to blame when these tragedies happen. By following the Safe to Sleep protocol, parents can decrease their child's risk of SIDS.
For more information on the tips above, visit Safe to Sleep, the CDC or a linked article from their site.