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Go Back To Sleep, Baby

By Dr. Scott Hamilton
April 6, 2012

When we bring a new baby home, we want to do everything to make our new family member comfortable.  We got a sheepskin as a shower gift- put it under baby!  Cover her with an extra blanket- don't want her to get chilly.  Put some stuffed animals in the bed with her- it makes her so much cuter.  Uh oh she is crying- there, she is sleeping quieter now when I roll her on her stomach.  Still crying-I'll bring her into bed with me. I've got to feed her in a half hour anyway. Sounds great, right?  Unfortunately, everything I just mentioned doubles baby's risk for crib death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS is a rare but devastating event, where baby is found in bed dead for no apparent reason.  In the past two decades it has been discovered that crib death happens when babies smother.  Their faces get stuck in thick and soft bedding, or stuck under a heavily sleeping adult, and new babies don't have the ability to roll over or do a push-up to save themselves.  In fact, babies really can't save themselves until they can sit up on their own, which usually doesn't happen until after 6 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics rolled out their "Back To Sleep" campaign 20 years ago.  The idea was to let every new family know that babies should sleep on their back.  Since then, the rate of crib death has fallen by 50%.  Besides having babies sleep on their backs, cribs should have no sheepskins, thick blankets, bumper pads, quilts, stuffed animals or toys, or pillows. Babies should sleep only in cribs.  Babies in beds get accidentally smothered by sleeping adults, or shoved to a corner where they get stuck between the bed and a wall.  Also, babies should not sleep on couches with adults.  My last crib death case happened when a father took a nap with his new baby on a couch, and when he woke up baby was dead, suffocated face down between him and the cushions. Finally, a lot parents are worried that if baby is on his back, he may choke on saliva or spit-up.  Not to worry!  Babies have been designed to handle spit up or mucus by coughing, gagging, and swallowing, to protect and clear the airway.  No baby with a normal brain and reflexes has died from choking on mucus or spit up. So put that baby Back To Sleep, on his back.  Feel free to use a pacifier- new evidence suggests that pacifiers are protective against SIDS, and help babies sleep quieter on their backs.  Resist the temptation to fill the crib with soft stuff you think will make baby more comfortable- that only makes it more dangerous.  Then after feeding baby at night, put him Back in his crib, where he belongs.