The Health Dialoguer
I am lucky enough to be of the age where I am surrounded by babies. Family members, friends and work colleagues are all becoming parents for the first (and second!) time. And this means that I am also entering a stage of life where advice about parenting is all around me.
How young is too young to send baby to daycare? Are pacifiers bad for a baby’s mouth? Do you allow your child to eat sugar? Are you putting your baby into a routine or is your baby putting you into one?
As someone who hasn’t had children yet myself, the only advice I give to new Mum’s is to follow their intuition and try not to be overwhelmed with all of the information being thrown at them.
But recently I read about some parenting advice, which I think every mother and father should read. The SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) guidelines.
Since their introduction the guidelines have resulted in a massive 83% reduction in sudden infant death and this has lead to it being hailed the most successful public health initiative in Australian history. So I figure this is advice that is worth listening to.
The guidelines have changed recently and while I was familiar with many of them, some of them really surprised me.
For instance, I had no idea that sleeping baby in the same room as the parents for the first 6-12 months of life was an official SIDS guideline. Room sharing (Not bed sharing as this is dangerous) has been shown to be protective to the child.
The other guideline that surprised me was that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of SIDS. There are a range of theories as to why this is the case and one of those is that at around 2-4 months of age the baby starts to lose the immune protection that was given to it from the mother in utero. Breastfeeding helps to boost this, passing on valuable immune protection from mother to baby.
The complete six guidelines include:
1. Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side
2. Sleep baby with head and face uncovered
3. Keep baby smoke free before birth and after
4. Provide a safe sleeping environment
5. Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult care-giver for the first six to twelve months
6. Breastfeed baby if you can
UPDATE: As a result of the really important questions below, Prof Jeanine Young has been kind enough to provide detailed answers (thank you, Jeanine!)…
Question: If the baby is in a safe sleeping environment in its own room will it be safe? Why would sleeping it in my room (in its cot) make it safer?
Answer from Prof. Young: Room-sharing with a baby has been shown to reduce the risk of sudden unexpected infant death. Room-sharing facilitates a rapid response to a baby’s needs, more convenient settling and comforting of babies, and closer mother-baby contact and communication.
The protective effect of room sharing can be partially explained by increased adult supervision and observation of the baby. While this does not guarantee the baby’s safety, attentive and motivated parents may become aware of potentially dangerous situations such as the baby rolling into the tummy position or bedclothes covering the face and head, or baby movement or distress. Studies of night-time mother-baby interactions have demonstrated that compared to mothers who sleep apart from their babies, babies and mothers who sleep in close proximity demonstrate increased physical contact, more breastfeeding episodes and increased arousals, with babies initiating most of these mother-baby interactions, suggesting a relatively high responsivity by the mother.
We have developed a SIDS and Kids Information statement about Roomsharing which can be located on the SIDS and Kids website: http://www.sidsandkids.org
Question: I thought that sleeping baby on its side was best because it limits choking. Isn’t it unsafe for babies to sleep on their back because they could choke e.g. on vomit?
When baby is placed on their tummy the digestive tract sits above the baby’s upper airways. If baby regurgitates or vomits milk or fluid, these substances are more likely to be inhaled into the baby’s airway and lungs.
When a baby is on their side, the airway and digestive tract are side by side. If a baby vomits, milk or fluid is also more likely to be inhaled if baby is on their side, as the airway is more likely to be compromised.
Placing baby on their back to sleep is the safest position, and reduces the risk of a baby inhaling milk or fluid if they regurgitate. This is because the airway is above the oesophagus so the risk of choking is reduced.
We will hopefully have an information statement explaining this issue on the SIDS and KIds website soon however I have developed a parent information brochure endorsed by Qld Health and SIDS and Kids which explains this also which uses diagrams.
There is an e-learning program available that parents can also access which guides the participant through this research and reinforces this information with images and video.