Reducing the Risk of SIDS in Your Nursery

baby girl sleeping on her back on white bedding

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Few things are more tragic than the loss of a precious, new life to SIDS. The thought alone is almost too much to bear. Unfortunately, the risk is too high to ignore. Despite the success of the "Back to Sleep" campaign, which has greatly reduced the death rate, SIDS remains the leading cause of sudden death in infants and the third leading cause of overall infant mortality in the United States (CDC).

While the cause of these terrifying incidents remains a mystery, research has identified a number of ways parents can help prevent SIDS. But many parents fail to take the necessary precautions. Focused on creating a beautiful new room for their baby, they inadvertently make dangerous decorating choices that could put their little one in danger.

Designing a nursery? Keep the following SIDS prevention tips in mind.

Avoid Bedding Blunders

Many new parents find it difficult to resist buying a new bedding set for their baby-to-be, often spending hundreds of dollars on sets that include sheets, blankets, throw pillows and bumpers. After all, they want the baby to be comfortable, and if they sell it, it must be safe to use, right?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, blankets, pillows and especially crib bumpers are both unnecessary and dangerous. The AAP, which has warned parents against the use of thick, pillow-like bumpers for some time, has now issued a safety warning against all types of crib bumpers, including those designed and marketed as “SIDS Safe.” Several states have even considered banning the sale of bumpers all together in order to eliminate any confusion about their safety. Yet confusion persists, and some parents continue to use crib bumpers despite safety warnings.

Sleep positioners and similar products that actively claim to reduce the risk of SIDS should also be avoided. No actual evidence exists to support these claims, and several infants have actually suffocated as a result of their use.

To ensure a safe sleeping environment for your little one, choose a firm, well-fitting mattress, and remove all toys and soft bedding from your baby's crib except for a fitted sheet and a thin, water-resistant mattress cover. Instead of covering your baby, dress them in a lightweight sleep sack for warmth and comfort. If you prefer to swaddle your baby, use specially designed swaddling clothes. Traditional swaddling blankets may become loose and obstruct baby's nose and mouth. Be sure to stop swaddling as soon as your baby begins to roll.

Prevent Overheating

Before introducing your baby to the nursery, take some time to consider your nursery environment. Does the room get especially hot during the day? Is the crib ever exposed to direct sunlight? What measures have you taken to ensure the room stays cool and comfortable?

Installing a ceiling fan is an easy, yet commonly overlooked, way to protect your baby from overheating, a known risk factor for SIDS. In fact, a study published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reported that infants who sleep under a ceiling fan reduce their risk of SIDS by 72%. Still, many parents opt for theme-enhancing light fixtures, such as beaded chandeliers, unaware of the difference a ceiling fan could make.

Window dressings are another area where parents sometimes fail to make a practical choice. Even if your nursery seems cool, it's a good idea to install heat-reflecting, UV-blocking drapes. Have your heart fixed on more delicate curtains? A set of heavy blinds should take care of the problem.

Let Baby Bunk in

While it may be tempting to put the baby right into his or her beautiful new nursery, studies have shown that sharing a room with your newborn for the first six months can significantly reduce the risk of SIDS. That said, you should never share a bed with your little one. Adult mattresses and bedding are too soft and may lead to suffocation, strangulation or entrapment. Instead, place your baby in his or her own bassinet near your bed.

Protect Baby's Air Quality

The AAP has long associated smoking with an increased risk of SIDS, but cigarette fumes may not be the only chemicals putting your child at risk. While it has yet to make the official list, some studies have identified VOCs and additional indoor air pollutants as a risk factor for SIDS.

VOCs are chemical compounds left over from the manufacturing process of many common household items. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, fumes resulting from VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat; trigger headaches, dizziness and nausea; and can even damage the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Children can also develop allergies to these chemicals, which can cause respiratory problems. These respiratory problems do not usually result in death; however, SIDS often occurs in association with such symptoms.

To protect your child's air quality, always allow sufficient time for new products to air out before introducing them to your little one. You might also consider purchasing organic, VOC-free products.

The above tips are intended to help parents avoid common nursery-decorating mistakes that may put their child at risk for SIDS. For a complete list of risk factors and recommendations for reducing the risk of SIDS, please visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website.