The leading cause of infant deaths in the United States is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Sudden infant death syndrome occurs when an infant dies unexplainably, usually while sleeping. The cause of SIDS remains unknown, but there are several risk factors, most of which are preventable. These risk factors are related to mother's actions during the pregnancy, and the care and environment after the baby is born. Some risks of SIDS, however, are thought to be unavoidable, such as gender, race, birth weight, and even the season.
Proper prenatal care is considered very important to lowering the risks of SIDS. Before birth, the mother's actions have a very big impact on the health and well being of her baby. Many doctors believe that smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or caffeine, or doing drugs during pregnancy can increase the risk of SIDS. Certain diseases may also lead to SIDS, including sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections.
Certain factors in an infant's environment after birth may also lead to SIDS. For example, some experts believe that even if a mother does not smoke during pregnancy, second-hand smoke after the baby is born may contribute to SIDS. An infant's sleeping situation should also be monitored closely to reduce the risks of SIDS, because almost all instances of this syndrome occur while an infant is asleep.
Parents of a newborn baby will usually be given information about the risks of SIDS before leaving the hospital. They are strongly encouraged to lay an infant on his back for sleep. Studies have shown that babies who sleep on their stomachs are more at risk for SIDS, as the weight of the child can possible restrict air passages.
Also, the crib or bassinet mattress should be firm and covered with just a sheet. Instead of comforters and soft blankets, most pediatricians recommend that parents dress the infant comfortably, turn the heat to a comfortable temperature, and use a sleep sack instead of a blanket. If a blanket is desired, it should be tucked under the mattress in the crib and raised only to the infant's chest. Any pillows, stuffed animals, or loose bedding should not be in the crib while the baby is sleeping, as these types of items can possibly smother a child.
In some instances of SIDS, the cause is something that can not be controlled by either the parents or modern medicine. Babies who are born premature or with a low birth weight are generally considered more at risk for SIDS, and this syndrome seems to take more male infants than females. Risks for SIDS also include race and weather conditions. African-American and Native-American babies are considered to be at a much higher risk, and more deaths also occur during the colder months of the year.