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Dr. Michael J. Breus Headshot

Cutting Risk of SIDS Could Be as Easy as Using a Fan

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I was fascinated to read about the report that came in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. New research offers another tool parents can use to reduce their chances of SIDS: a fan.

Unfortunately, we don't know what causes SIDS. What we do know is that it seems to happen more frequently in premature and low-birth-weight babies; in babies whose mothers didn't get medical care during their pregnancy; and in babies whose mothers smoke. There also is a pattern of SIDS among babies who shared the womb with siblings (as in twins or triplets) and whose mothers are younger than 20.

SIDS, while rare, is one of the most common causes of death in babies between 1 and 12 months of age. Most babies who die of SIDS are between the ages of 2 and 4 months. Oddly, more boys than girls die of SIDS, and most cases of SIDS occur in the winter.

Conventional wisdom on avoiding SIDS has alerted parents to place babies on their backs rather than their bellies, where they may not breathe well. Side sleeping has also been deemed a no-no, as babies can roll over onto their bellies and have trouble breathing.

You'd think that if a baby were being suffocated by its position, the body would sense the danger and do something to move. But this doesn't happen in our very young, leading researchers to study the possibility that SIDS may be caused by problems with how well the brain controls breathing and/or temperature during the first few months of life.

So, how can something as simple as a fan help? The theory works like this: babies who re-breathe carbon dioxide (presumably from their own exhalations) are at a higher risk for SIDS. If the pooling of carbon dioxide around an infant's nose and mouth during sleep increases the risk, anything to move that gas away cuts that risk. Hence the benefits of having a fan nearby to circulate air. This can be especially helpful in warm rooms with no windows.

SIDS, like so many other illnesses, may never have a "cure." The best we can do is learn how to reduce its risk and take those precautions every single day. Adding a fan to your baby's room is an inexpensive and easy thing to do.

This sleep article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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