National ‘Safe to Sleep’ Campaign Offers Sound Advice for Prevention

Apr 19, 2023

It can happen to any baby in any family. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the unexplained death of a baby younger than one year of age, takes a devastating toll on parents and families. They often are left with despair, anger, deep sadness and unanswered questions. Why?

October is SIDS Awareness Month. Each year there are about 3,400 cases of sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) in the United States, a classification that includes SIDS, accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed, and unknown cause of death. Since the 1990s, when the U.S. back-sleeping recommendations were first released and public awareness efforts began, the overall SIDS rate in the United States has dropped half.

But SIDS is still the leading cause of death among babies age one month to one year, with the majority of deaths taking place between two and four months of age, says Tricia Pennywell, RNC-NIC, NICU clinical instructor for Willis-Knighton Health System. While SIDS rates have declined nationwide, sudden unexplained infant deaths from other sleep-related causes have increased.

“As healthcare providers, too often we feel the pain of parents and loved ones as they experience heartbreaking loss due to SIDS/SUID,” Pennywell says. “It is important to provide focus and education on SIDS risk factors and the prevention of sleep related deaths not only in October but year-round because many of these deaths are predictable and preventable.”

Stacy Brannan, RNC-MNN, agrees. “We are passionate at Willis-Knighton about safe sleep practices and continuously educate our staff and postpartum patients on the American Academy of Pediatrics current recommendations,” she says.

 Willis-Knighton models and actively discusses infant sleeping practices with parents and caregivers before they leave the hospital and provides safe sleep practices and parent education to parents of infants younger than one year of age in all areas of its hospitals where infants may be admitted for care. Part of the national Safe to Sleep campaign led by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, safe sleep messages have shown to make a difference nationwide in the number of SIDS/SUID deaths.

There is no sure way to prevent SIDS, but studies show babies at risk:

  • Sleep on their stomachs
  • Share a bed
  • Sleep in a swing, carrier or car seat
  • Have unsupervised tummy time
  • Are born to mothers who had no or late prenatal care
  • Are born to mothers who smoke during and after pregnancy
  • Are placed on soft surfaces such as a soft mattress containing fluffy and loose bedding

Parents and caregivers can take steps to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.

Pennywell says parents should:

  • Always place baby on his or her back to sleep for every sleep
  • Use a firm or flat sleep surface covered by a fitted sheet only
  • Keep soft objects, toys and loose bedding out of baby’s sleep area
  • Have baby sleep alone but in the same room where parents sleep
  • Not smoke in baby’s environment

“Safe sleep practices help reduce the risk of sudden infant death, and as healthcare providers, it is our job to ensure families are provided with the education and training in order to reduce these risks,” Pennywell says.