Preventing SIDS: New Advice for Parents
Because a baby loses much heat through his tummy -- and even more through his face and head -- covering those areas prevents him from releasing excess heat, Guntheroth says. "The prevention then is to keep kids on their backs, don't cover their heads, don't cover them with too much of anything. And don't overheat the room."
In fact, soft bedding like pillows, mattresses, blankets, and comforters also increase risk of SIDS, says Thach. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Academy of Pediatrics have issued advisories about soft bedding, he tells WebMD.
While the bedding may cause infants to overheat, or cause suffocation, a physiological process called "re-breathing" may also be at work, he says.
"Babies who get their faces in this bedding breathe their own expired air -- carbon dioxide -- and don't get sufficient fresh air," Thach tells WebMD. "This gives rise to impaired respiratory function, oxygen depletion. Some babies have not yet learned to turn their heads when oxygen gets too low, so they may not sense that carbon dioxide is building up."
Most cases of SIDS occur when babies are two or three months old, "a peak time when babies start to squirm, to pull things over their faces, develop mobility," says Thach. "Yet they have not yet learned how to extract themselves from these dangerous situations."
The SIDS Alliance advocates dressing babies in a light piece of clothing called the "Dutch sleeping sack," Thach tells WebMD. The baby's head and arms are uncovered, but the chest and rest of the body are enclosed in a "sort of a bag," he says. "Babies have a reduced ability to roll over [onto their stomach], reduced ability to scoot around in the crib and get into dangerous situations."
Allowing infants to share an adult's bed has also proven to be dangerous, causing cases of accidental suffocation, says Thach. "It appears to occur more often when adults or siblings are in bed asleep or unconscious of what is happening to the infant. Babies can pull covers over their heads, scoot under comforters. In some cases, part of the adult's body -- a leg or a breast -- covers the baby's face."
Placing babies on sofas or in overstuffed chairs is equally risky, he adds, because a baby's head can become trapped or wedged in a tight place or under cushions. "Even the bed frame is risky," says Thach.