Doctors don’t always know the exact cause of a crib death, which is often called SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) or, more recently, SUID (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death). Some babies may be at high risk due to genetics, medical causes, prematurity or any number of other factors that may not yet be known. And for very young infants, immaturity of the breathing centers of the brain may also contribute. As it stands, there’s not much anyone can do about either of those factors.
The third contributing factor, however, is the sleeping environment. And there is something parents can do about that.
The main environmental factors that contribute to crib death are suffocating and overheating. Using a firm mattress with a fitted sheet and removing blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, bumpers and everything else from an infant’s crib goes a long way toward mitigating those risks.
In that same vein, while the conventional wisdom once held that placing an infant to sleep on her stomach would reduce the risk of suffocation from choking on spit-up, years of research on tens of thousands of babies has shown that the opposite is true. Placing a baby to sleep on her back is far safer than placing her on her stomach.
To some parents, neither the bare crib nor the back-sleeping sound like much fun, but it doesn’t have to last forever. By the time babies can roll over, it’s fine to let them sleep on their stomach if they want to flip themselves that way. Very young babies won’t notice if there’s stuff in their crib or not, and by the time they’re old enough to appreciate it’s there — after 1 year of age — they’re out of the woods.
—Dr. Stephen Hawkins, sleep medicine specialist