While the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is unknown, there are several things that parents can do to keep their babies as safe as possible.
“We’ve worked hard on the Island to get the message out about what people can do to protect babies while they are sleeping,” says Dr. Charmaine Enns, North Island Medical Health Officer for Island Health.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome occurs when a baby dies suddenly while sleeping and the death remains unexplained even after a full autopsy. SIDS is most likely to occur in babies between two and four months of age.
Dr. Enns participated in the development of a recently completed “Safe Infant Sleep Toolkit,” an assortment of informative material that highlights the importance of steps such as having babies sleep on their backs in cribs in the same room as their parents and avoiding risks such as exposure to second-hand smoke.
The safe sleep toolkit is an initiative of the Tripartite First Nations and Aboriginal Maternal and Child Health Committee, led by Perinatal Services BC, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and First Nations stakeholders.
The material, available at: www.fnhc.ca/index.php/health_actions/maternal_and_child/, has an Aboriginal focus but Dr. Enns says, “It’s relevant for everybody. It’s about all our babies.”
October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month and Dr. Enns and her colleagues are promoting the resource material as an effective way to save lives.
The toolkit includes several illustrations of safe sleep practices. The message accompanying one image notes the baby is sleeping on his or her back in a crib in the same room as the parents. The parents have made sure their baby’s sleeping area is clear of heavy or loose blankets, pillows, toys, sheep skins, or bumper pads.
“These objects are dangerous because they can cover a baby’s nose and mouth and make it difficult to breathe,” the message points out.
Another image highlights the value of breastfeeding in reducing the risk of SIDS.
There is also an illustration of a baby sleeping in a laundry basket rather than with mom on a couch.
Dr. Enns says the message of finding a flat, firm sleeping surface for the baby is supportive for parents who may be travelling without a crib and need to improvise.
Other illustrations show practices that are unsafe – a baby sleeping near a smoker or propped up on a pillow on a bed or wearing a hat in bed.
Overheating increases the risk of SIDS, the illustration points out.
“We can’t say for certain if any one factor causes a death in SIDS cases,” says Dr. Enns. “Usually it’s several factors – a baby exposed to tobacco smoke, a baby sleeping in an adult bed, sleeping on his or her tummy or propped up on pillows for a nap when nobody is around.”
There has been an encouraging trend in recent years throughout the Island Health region with the infant mortality rate dropping from six per thousand live births in 2007 to fewer than four in 2011. It is estimated that SIDS accounts for a quarter of infant deaths in the region.
“We’ve had a steady decline in the rate infant mortality in recent years but we can do better yet,” says Dr. Enns.
Information on safe sleep is available on the pregnancy and parenting page of the Healthy Families BC website:
For additional information on safe sleep practices, visit HealthLink BC: