Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

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Babies spend a lot of time in a cot, sometimes unsupervised. Therefore, nursery products like cribs, playpens and diaper-changing tables must be selected with safety in mind. This isn’t always straightforward if you have well-meaning aunts and cousins who eagerly push used baby furniture at you. Sometimes, even new nursery equipment can be faulty if not well-designed for a young child’s use.

There is also another important reason for being fussy about nursery safety – SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Also known as cot death, SIDS is rare. Nevertheless, it is worrying because it strikes suddenly, sometimes overwhelming a baby in seconds. A key risk factor of cot death is poor nursery safety.

Understanding SIDS

SIDS is the sudden, unexpected and often unexplained death of a baby. SIDS needn’t only occur in a crib. Studies show that it also occurs when parents fall asleep with their infants on a sofa.

SIDS is not limited to death by suffocation. Most SIDS deaths are thought to happen when baby experiences abnormalities in breathing or heart rate. Some babies may die from a sudden and overwhelming respiratory infection. Others may die of SIDS due to abnormalities in metabolism (a condition referred to as an inborn error of metabolism). Sometimes, the reasons are so vague that even an autopsy cannot confirm the cause of death.

According to the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID), over 75% of SIDS deaths occur in the zero to six months age group.

Symptoms and prevention of SIDS

SIDS can occur very suddenly and without warning. However, experts say some babies demonstrate symptoms like a cold with a stuffy nose a few days prior to death, as well as unexplained weight loss.

There are several steps you can take to prevent SIDS, beginning with sleep-time safety. It may be a good idea to keep a copy of the following SIDS prevention tips in your baby’s nursery or by her cot to help you remember.

SIDS PREVENTION TIPS
Always put baby to sleep on her back

  • Wrap baby snugly in a blanket that comes no higher than her shoulders.
  • To prevent bedding from accidentally covering her head at night, place her with her feet at the bottom of the cot.
  • Do not use a duvet, pillows or bolsters until baby is at least a year old.
  • For added reassurance, place baby’s cot in your bedroom for the first six months.
  • Baby should not sleep with you or your partner if either of you take sleep medication, drink alcohol, are overcome by fatigue or have any other condition that makes you sleep more heavily than usual.
  • At about five to six months, baby will begin to roll over. This is normal and should not be stopped. Don’t worry; risk of SIDS for your baby is reduced at this age.
Keep your home smoke-free

  • Both parents should try to stop smoking as soon as you discover you are pregnant.
  • Never smoke in bed. This is both a SIDS and fire hazard.
  • Don’t let anyone else smoke in the same room as baby.
  • Don’t bring baby to smoky places.
Don’t let baby get too hot

  • Keep baby’s room cool and well-ventilated.
  • Keep baby well-hydrated by making her drink plenty of fluid.
  • If you’re going out, remove baby’s hat and/or sweater as soon as you get indoors.
  • Too much bedding or clothing can make baby feel stuffy and cause breathing difficulty.
  • Check often to see if baby is sweating or if her tummy feels hot. If yes, remove some of her clothing or bedding. It is normal for babies to have cool hands or feet, so don’t let this worry you.
Get prompt medical attention when baby is unwell
Babies get sick all the time. However, call for an ambulance immediately if your baby

  • Stops breathing or goes blue.
  • Does not respond to you or shows no awareness of what’s going on.
  • Has glazed eyes and does not focus on anything.
  • Has a fit or seizures.

SIDS is no doubt a devastating experience, and parents are often overwhelmed by feelings of intense guilt, blaming themselves for their baby’s death. Anger and depression are other common aftermaths of SIDS. Grief from SIDS can also affect the relationship between mother and father, or other family members. Parents who have lost one child to SIDS may furthermore, lose confidence in their ability to take care of other children.

It is essential to seek support and counseling – and stop blaming yourself – if your child is a victim of SIDS. Meanwhile, there is so much you can do to prevent SIDS and other nursery accidents – from being extra picky about what you put into baby’s cot to running daily safety checks, to discarding or repairing faulty furniture on time. Start now so that your time as a new mom or dad is not filled with niggling doubts about potentially life-threatening nursery hazards.

Below is a handy guide to have with you when choosing, installing and periodically checking on nursery furniture.

NURSERY SAFETY GUIDE
Cribs/ cots and playpens YES NO
1. It is made of strong and stable material.
2. There are no missing wooden slats.
3. Wooden slats are not broken or cracked.
4. There are no pointed edges that could harm baby.
5. Spaces between slats are about 45 to 65mm and less than 60mm wide at the mattress base.
6. Mattress support board is secured strongly to the head and footboards.
7. The mattress is firm and fits snugly into cot frame.
8. There is less than a 4cm (or two-finger wide) gap between mattress and cot.
9. Bumper pads are thin and can be securely tied to cot without posing a suffocation or strangulation hazard for baby.
10. Corner posts are no higher than 1mm to prevent baby’s clothing from getting entangled.
11. There are no cut-outs that could trap baby’s head or limbs.
12. Drop-side latches hold securely in the raised position.
13. Baby will not be able to release drop-side latches on her own when she is older.
14. All staples, screws and bolts used for construction are tightly secured.
15. Mesh of playpen has small weaves with no tears, holes or loose threads.
16. Mesh of playpen is securely attached to top rail and bottom.
17. Sleep surface is firm and flat and there are no fluffy pieces of bedding that could pose as a suffocation hazard.
18. Crib/cot/playpen is surrounded by a safety zone away from windows, curtains/blinds, heating equipment, appliances, lamps, decorations (including wall paintings that could fall into crib), wires, shelving and other furniture.
19. Crib mattress has been moved to lowest position now that baby can stand and may climb out.
20. Bumper pads removed now that baby can stand up and use them for climbing out.
Toys and toy chests YES NO
1. Mobiles and other toys have no strangulation hazards like strings longer than 178mm (7 inches) dangling into the crib.
2. Toys have no loops or openings larger than 356mm (14 inches).
3. Rattles, squeeze toys, teethers etc are too large for baby to choke on. Squeaky toys do not contain a squeaker that can detach itself and choke baby.
4. Crib or playpen toys are removed when baby sleeps.
5. Toys will not break or injure baby in any other way.
6. Crib gyms to be removed when child is able to pull or push herself up with hands and knees.
7. Toy chest’s hinged lid will not pinch a child’s fingers.
8. Toy chest has no lid lock that could trap a child within.
9. Toy chest has ventilation holes just in case a child gets trapped within.
It is strongly recommended that you remove heavy toy chest lids to prevent potential head injury should your child climb inside.

When selecting nursery furniture, check for yourself if it has been thoughtfully designed with the safety features mentioned above. Consider whether missing or broken parts on second-hand furniture can be replaced or repaired completely without creating a new safety hazard. If most of your answers are No, start looking elsewhere.

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