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SIDS vs Suffocation: Helping Baby Sleep Safely
Ask an expectant or new parent what SIDS is and the overwhelming majority will -- sadly -- know that it means the sudden death of a baby before the first year of life. It’s the worst possible thing. It’s not anyone’s fault. And it’s as devastating as it is inexplicable.
But did you know that, while SIDS remains unexplained, some causes of infant death are both explicable and preventable? Too many people confuse SIDS with accidental suffocation. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about 3,700 infants (under 12 months) died in the United States in 2015, the last year for which there are statistics. Some of those deaths (about 1,600, again according to CDC stats) are attributable to SIDS. But some were caused by accidental suffocation, often traced to unsafe sleeping environments.
As October is SIDS Awareness Month, we thought we’d offer a refresher on what poses a danger, what doesn’t, and what you need to know:
SIDS is defined as the sudden death of an infant under 1 year of age that, even after a thorough investigation (an examination of the spot the tragedy occurred, the baby’s medical history, and possibly an autopsy), has no other definition. Basically, SIDS is what experts call a “diagnosis of exclusion.” It’s not anything else, so it must be this. In their grief, some SIDS parents may understandably blame themselves or reach for reasons that it may have happened. Rest assured that, according to the National Institutes of Health, SIDS is not triggered by vaccines, nor is it a result of neglect or abuse.
Accidental suffocation is what it sounds like: something went wrong in how a baby was put down for sleep or a nap, leading to tragedy. There are several ways it can occur:
These deaths have one very important component that distinguishes them from SIDS: They are all preventable.
How to Keep Your Baby Safe
What constitutes the safest-possible baby sleep environment changes from generation to generation (and some aspects of baby sleep are cultural, such as co-sleeping). But the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the CDC, has some basic guidelines to help avoid the worst outcome and allow everyone to sleep easier:
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