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Cradle of Doubt

Resources: What to know about SIDS and co-sleeping

About 3,400 babies die unexpectedly each year while sleeping in the United States. According to government data, four out of 10 of these cases are linked to a mysterious condition known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), with the rest attributed roughly equally to accidental suffocation or undetermined causes requiring more investigation.

A Boston Globe Spotlight Team report found that hundreds of women each year face some form of blame for these deaths if they were bed-sharing — and low-income parents disproportionately face these probes because they are far more likely to lose a baby to sudden unexpected sleep deaths.

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Here’s what to know about SIDS.

Risk factors

Much remains unknown about what causes SIDS. But top pediatricians are largely guided by the Triple Risk Model, named after the categories of dangers. Under this theory, an infant is at higher risk of a SIDS death when these multiple factors interact simultaneously.

  1. The baby is at a critical stage of development - usually the first six months of life
  2. The baby has an underlying vulnerability, such as brainstem abnormality, cardiovascular impairment, or an undetected disease that makes them unable to respond to low-oxygen and high carbon-dioxide levels.
  3. The baby is exposed to an outside triggering event that may compromise their airways, even briefly, such as a parent’s body or a stuffed animal, or an overbundled infant in heat stress.

Resources

Below, learn more about safe sleep practices recommended by organizations, which have somewhat different approaches to co-sleeping as they try to reduce infant sleep deaths.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be placed on their back, in their own sleep space that is free of blankets, pillows, bumpers or stuffed animals — every time they sleep. The group also urges parents to breastfeed if possible and avoid smoking.

The Lullaby Trust, a British charity, created a video that provides information about how to maximize safety for babies when parents choose to co-sleep, though emphasizes that infants are safest in a separate sleep space.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her @cprignano.