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SIDS risk is about a lot more than where your baby sleeps

SIDS is one part of new parenting that is almost easier to not think about. Worrying that your new baby could die unexpectedly and without reason is more than any new parent can handle. One new study hopes to address this common fear that has been paralyzing parents for decades — by providing accurate information about what really contributes to SIDS, beyond a baby’s sleep environment.

A study published online on Dec. 2 in the journal Pediatrics says that back-sleeping, drilled into new parents since the Back-to-Sleep campaign was launched in 1994, is only one piece of the puzzle in SIDS prevention. Researchers have now pinpointed three main risk factors that can contribute to SIDS. A safe sleep environment is a major SIDS preventer, of course, but researchers also found “intrinsic risk factors” and age to significantly contribute to SIDS.

Babies who die of SIDS often fall within a critical period of development, normally younger than 6 months, when SIDS risk is highest. Intrinsic risk may refer to genetic, developmental and environmental factors, like smoking or drinking during pregnancy, with increased risk among boys and preterm babies. Researchers also discovered that some infants with “intrinsic risk” may have abnormalities in the area of the brain that should wake them when they are not receiving enough oxygen.

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If you’re the parent of a new baby, this may be the kind of study you’re likely to ignore. For starters, we know that parenting studies circulate constantly with often contradictory information (drinking alcohol during pregnancy, anyone?). On top of that, SIDS — the leading cause of death among infants between 1 month and 1 year of age — is a difficult topic for new parents to discuss openly since it seems impossible to control.

But on the contrary, this enlightening study may be the breath of fresh air new parents need to make it through those overwhelming new baby days. Researchers have been working tirelessly to solve the SIDS mystery and finally give parents the answers and information they need to sleep better at night.

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If you have been brave enough to Google SIDS during pregnancy or while nursing your new infant in the wee hours, you know that rumors abound. The first and the biggest SIDS rumor is that your new baby may be in danger at any time in the night, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (It’s no wonder new parents are barely sleeping.) These fear-mongering rumors are often fueled by plain old misinformation, like the idea that SIDS may be caused by vaccines when there is no research to support this notion. As the WHO points out, the SIDS-vaccine link is entirely ridiculous. Remember, babies younger than 6 months have a higher SIDS risk, which is also the window when the DTP shot is given. And so the “vaccines cause SIDS” rumor was born.

If you are a new parent, if you know a new parent, or if you have ever been a new parent, let’s take a moment to thank these researchers for sharing real, accurate information about SIDS risk. Being a new parent is hard enough, and most parenting studies can be scary at face value.

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When a groundbreaking study like this comes out, it’s important that we share it and spread the truth. We now know that SIDS has three possible primary risk factors, some of which are preventable. Putting a baby to sleep on his back is still critically important to reduce SIDS risk, but there is more that can be done to keep an infant safe. Researchers recommend focusing on the factors you can control to minimize intrinsic risk — not smoking and drinking during pregnancy, receiving prenatal care and breastfeeding may all help to prevent SIDS.

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