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Oct 01 2016

Reducing the Risk of SIDS: How We Can Help

By: Nichetra MaGee, Common Intake Coordinator Arkansas Home Visiting Network

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained death of a child younger than 1 year of age, and it is the leading cause of death for infants between 1 month and 1 year of age.

SIDS is more likely to happen to infants during the first four months of life.

October is National SIDS Awareness Month, and home visitors can work with parents to decrease a baby’s risk for SIDS. By promoting safe sleep and other simple practices into a home visiting family’s routine.


We all work together to reduce the devastating impacts of SIDS on home visiting families, and many of the suggestions provided in this post are also tied to home visiting program benchmarks.

What can home visitors and parents do to reduce the risk of SIDS?

Home visitors can start working with families on reducing the risk of SIDS before a child’s birth. They can help mothers in sharing ways to have a healthy pregnancy as well as provide community referrals for smoking cessation, and appropriate breastfeeding practices. Home visitors can also share and encourage families to practice safe sleep methods before the baby’s arrival. New parents may especially need support after delivery to prevent bed-sharing and other risks for SIDS.

Before a child’s birth, home visitors can encourage pregnant women to:

  • Stop smoking as soon as possible. Even second-hand smoke exposure to a pregnant mother can cause health problems.
  • Stop any alcohol or drug use, and discuss any current medications with the obstetrician.
  • Keep regularly scheduled prenatal appointments to prevent premature delivery or low birth weight.
  • Purchase a crib or separate sleep space i.e. Pack ‘n Play for the baby. A separate sleep area in the parent’s room is a great choice for keeping a close eye on the baby.
After Delivery

Promoting safe sleeping practices is a powerful way that parents and home visitors can work together to reduce SIDS deaths. The national Safe to Sleep public education campaign (click here for details) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (details found here) both provide useful tips and resources. We have compiled several suggestions below that would be useful to home visitors.

 Safe Sleep Practices for Babies
  • Back to Sleep: Always place your baby on their back during naps and bedtime. While a caregiver is watching use tummy time for play and while your baby is awake. Tummy time helps improve motor skills development and prevents flat areas on the head.
  • Make sure that the baby’s crib mattress is firm to prevent and limit items in the baby’s crib to a snug fitted sheet to prevent the risk of choking or strangulation. The crib should be free of any pillows, toys, or items that could be hazardous to the baby.
  • Don’t place the baby on a bed, couch, or pillows to sleep.
  • Keep the baby cool during sleep to prevent overheating which has been linked to SIDS. It is best to dress the baby in one layer of clothing such as a diaper, onesie, or sleeper.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 deaths happen when the child is with a caregiver other than the parent and placed in an incorrect sleeping position. Be sure to discuss the baby’s safe sleep methods with anyone caring for the baby.
Home visitors should share additional protective measures, including:
  • Making sure the baby’s immunizations are up-to-date. Encourage parents to keep all well-baby checkups as scheduled. The recommended schedules for immunizations and well-child visits be found here and here.
  • Encouraging mothers to breastfeed. Research indicates that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of SIDS especially during the first six months of life. Click here for more information on the relationship between breastfeeding and SIDS.
Additional Resources for Home Visitors

For more information on reducing the risk of SIDS be sure to check out the following resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics , SIDS, and other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Sleeping Environment

Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

SIDS Training Courses

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