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What every parent needs to know about SIDS

baby laying in father's arms

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained death of a healthy infant under one year of age.

SIDS is the leading cause of death in Canada for infants between one month and one year of age. It usually happens when the baby is sleeping.

No one knows exactly what causes SIDS, but there are some things you can do to make SIDS less likely to happen to your baby.

Put your baby on his back

When you put your baby down to sleep, place him (or her) on his back, not on his tummy or side, unless your doctor tells you to do otherwise for medical reasons. This is the single most important thing you can do to help prevent SIDS.

As awareness of the importance of the back sleeping position has increased, the number of SIDS deaths in Canada has fallen steadily by more than 50 percent since 1989.

Healthy babies won’t choke or have other problems from sleeping on their backs. And if your baby is old enough to turn from his back to his tummy on his own, you don’t have to force him to sleep on his back.

When infants are awake, some ‘tummy time’ is important for development.

The number of SIDS deaths has fallen steadily with growing awareness of the importance of the back sleeping position

Make your home smoke-free

Insist that your home be a smoke-free and drug-free place. The risk of SIDS is higher if the person who shares the bed is a smoker or has been consuming alcohol or taking other drugs that may decrease their responsiveness.

Don’t overdress your baby

Dress your baby so he doesn’t become too hot when sleeping. Use a light, not heavy, blanket in your baby’s crib so you can take it off if it gets too warm. If the room temperature is comfortable for you, it is probably fine for your baby.

If possible, breastfeed your baby

Breastfeeding has numerous benefits for your baby, and it may also help protect against SIDS. But if breastfeeding is not an option, don’t sweat it. Following the other guidelines to protect against SIDS means you’re still doing a great job to protect your baby. 

Dress the baby’s crib properly

Use firm, flat bedding for normal, healthy infants. You can use a light blanket as needed. Do not use pillows, comforters, bumper pads and similar products.

Objects that prevent air circulation around a sleeping infant’s face should be avoided, such as stuffed toys, manufacturers’ plastic wrapping and other plastic wrap products.

Commercial home apnea monitors for infants are available, but there is no conclusive evidence supporting their effectiveness.

An unexpected tragedy

The death of a baby from SIDS is always unexpected. Parents who have lost a child to SIDS should not blame themselves. We don’t know for sure exactly what causes SIDS, but following these guidelines may help prevent it.

Published in ParentsCanada: Best Wishes, March 2007; updated April 2023. 

a man carrying two children

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