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Stressed About SIDS?

Even though Kelly Gambrell, 34, is an experienced mom, she still fears SIDS. While she's religious about putting her fourth child, 3-month-old Kullen, on his back to sleep and reminding caregivers to do the same, she can't get over her anxiety, recalling the horror she felt when a co-worker's baby died of SIDS in daycare a few years ago. "I know it could still happen," says the Alexandria, Virginia, administrative manager.

Any parent can relate to Gambrell's dread of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the unexplained death during sleep of an otherwise healthy baby under 1 year of age. It's a tragic mystery that takes the lives of 2,200 infants a year. SIDS deaths peak between 2 and 4 months, and 90 percent occur before 6 months of age. More boys die from SIDS than girls, and African American and Native American babies are particularly vulnerable, as are preemies and infants whose mothers did not have prenatal care and babies whose mothers smoke.

Although SIDS remains the leading cause of death among children aged 1 month to 1 year, it's still a rare occurrence and babies born today are far less likely to succumb to SIDS than those born a decade ago. "We're nearing a sixty percent reduction in SIDS deaths," says Laura Reno, director of public affairs for the nonprofit First Candle/SIDS Alliance. What's more, research is revealing new ways to reduce your baby's risk. Here's how you can help keep your baby safe.

Put your baby "back" to sleep
Putting your baby on her back to sleep is still the most important way to reduce her SIDS risk. One possible explanation for why back sleeping lowers risk is that a baby who sleeps on her stomach is more likely to "rebreathe" the oxygen-depleted air that she just exhaled. Since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other health organizations recommended that doctors promote infant back sleeping, the number of SIDS deaths has been cut by more than half. At the time, 70 percent of U.S. infants were sleeping on their stomach; more than ten years later that number has plummeted to 14 percent. (Side sleeping is not recommended because infants can easily turn and end up on their stomach.) The only downside associated with back sleeping is a flattening of the head in some babies, but doctors say "tummy time," when the baby is awake and being supervised by an adult, can help prevent this. If a baby gets used to sleeping on his back from birth, he won't need any device to keep him on his back. In fact, so-called SIDS positioners are not recommended by the AAP, First Candle, or the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.