Sudden Infant Death: What the Nurse Taught This Mother Put Her Baby’s Life at Risk

Sudden infant death syndrome, SIDS, is a silent killer that took the lives of more than 2,000 American babies in a single year. Formerly known as “crib death,” this mysterious medical condition strikes without warning when a healthy baby simply stops breathing. The risk of death is a concern for parents of babies under one year. And a calming technique taught at the hospital by nurses can increase the risk the a mother’s newborn baby will die, usually while the infant is sleeping peacefully.

Swaddling is a traditional calming technique taught to parents of newborn babies right at the hospital by nursing staff. Wrapping baby in a swaddling blanket mimics the feeling of being in the womb and helps many mothers to calm a fussy baby or soothe an infant before going down to sleep. But what mother doesn’t know is that swaddling, combined with sleeping position and the age of her baby, can increase the risk of sudden infant death.

Swaddling Promoted to Reduce SIDS

First-time parents are often overwhelmed with contradictory advice about what’s good for their newborn babies and, when it comes to swaddling, there’s no great surprise that the most recent medical research runs counter to what doctors and nurses have been teaching mothers for years. Swaddling helps baby to fall asleep in the recommended sleeping position, say proponents of the practice. And getting baby to sleep without a fuss further reduces the infant’s risk by lowering parental fatigue and stress, which further contribute to SIDS.

But a recent meta-analysis published in Pediatrics suggests that under the wrong circumstances, swaddling can actually increase the risk of sudden infant death. While the data is not conclusive, it would appear that the risks are highest when mother puts baby to sleep on his side or tummy, and when swaddling is used in babies older than six months of age.

Safer Swaddling Techniques

In order to minimize risks of SIDS connected with swaddling, always follow these safety precautions:

  • Avoid overheating baby. Choose clothes appropriate to the season and keep baby’s nursery a little on the cool side.
  • When swaddling, wrap baby well so the swaddling blanket won’t come loose and become a hazard. But allow enough space for baby to breathe, move his feet, and diffuse excess body heat as needed. Never cover baby’s head at bedtime. Be sure baby’s legs are not bound too tightly: he should be able to bend up and outwards at the hip.
  • All newborn babies should be put down to sleep on their backs, and never on their sides or tummies. It is especially important that a swaddled baby never be put face down.
  • Babies are less likely to stop breathing while asleep if they are suckling, so give your infant a pacifier when you lay him down to sleep.
  • Most importantly, never swaddle a baby once he is old enough to roll over on his own. Swaddling works best for newborn babies and infants up to about six months. It should stop once baby can roll over, because of the risk that he might get stuck face down in his bed.

While swaddling remains an excellent method to soothe a baby to sleep, it’s important to do it right. Improper swaddling technique, including swaddling of older babies or laying swaddled babies face down, can contribute to SIDS. To prevent a tragic infant death, be sure you know how to swaddle your baby properly. You can see one safe method taught by doctors in this video.



Swaddling can contribute to a baby’s risks of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS

Baby dolls sleeping in different positions, showing some risk factors for SIDS
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Original content © 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne. Medical information intended for reference only. Please consult your doctor.

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  1. Profile photo of Gil Camporazo
    Gil Camporazo

    Here in the Philippines or in particular in our place, infant usually dies of suffocation. The swaddling cloth covers the mouth or the nose of the infant without the knowledge of his mother. The mother thought that his son is sleeping tight, but he’s already dead. We have 6 children and my wife is an expert when it comes to swaddling our children when they’re still an infant.

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      It’s not hard to swaddle a baby correctly if you know how. We were taught by the nurses when our oldest was newborn. That same method is still recommended by doctors nearly 20 years later and it’s very similar to what you’ll see in the video above. The only difference is that we learned to use one blanket to swaddle and the second one in more of a traditional blanket way to cover the swaddled infant. The nurses showed us how to tuck the ends of the blanket under the baby’s mattress, so they couldn’t come loose and pose a strangulation hazard.

  2. Profile photo of Deb Jones
    Deb Jones

    This is important information for parents to have, whether first-time parents or those with experience. Although there is no way to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, there are ways that parents and caregivers can reduce the risks of it happening.

    I hope you won’t be offended, but I’m going to take the liberty of linking to this article in a more general one I have written on how parents can reduce the risks of SIDS for their babies.

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      I’m very honoured that you wanted to link to my post! Thanks, Deb 🙂

      You know, when I was reading all this information on SIDS, I thought of all the grandparents out there who like to watch the babies while their parents are away. Things are so very different from when their children were infants and it made me think, do young parents today realize that their own parents were taught things like lying baby face down to go to sleep?

      Grandparents, friends, occasional babysitters all need to be kept up to date of the newest research and safe sleeping recommendations. It isn’t just the young parents who need this advice. The more people who know about safe sleeping positions and how to properly swaddle a baby, the better. So sharing articles and videos that teach safe practices is a very important way to contribute to the safety of the world’s babies 🙂

  3. Pingback: How to Reduce the Risk of SIDS for Your Baby | The Daily Voice

  4. Profile photo of Pat Z Anthony
    Pat Z Anthony

    Many things have changed over the years. Some young parents might get advice from those doing things the old way. It is good to look for and pay attention to new information available and taught to young parents.

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      Most hospitals will teach new parents how to put baby to bed safely. Some may even have literature to give out. It’s important to share this with grandparents and babysitters too.

  5. Profile photo of Sandy KS
    Sandy KS

    I know a couple who lost their baby due to SIDS. It was the day before Thanksgiving. Parents worked different shifts. I can’t remember which one found the baby in the switching of shifts. I do remember when it happened. It scared me, as I had my daughter who the same age at the time.

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      How sad! When I was a girl, our next door neighbours lost a little girl to SIDS. She was old enough to be walking and talking some. I think she may have been around 18 months. They were just devastated….

  6. Profile photo of Gina  M. Menorca
    Gina M. Menorca

    An eye opener to all parents. Thinking about it and looking back when my children were little. it really scares me. Now, I’m totally relieved that I learned this story after my children have grown.

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      It’s incredible when we look back on what we did or how our parents care for us and realize how much risk there may have been! I can empathize with your feeling that it’s best you learned about the swaddling after your kids were grown. Sometimes all that knowledge and expert advice can be downright overwhelming!

  7. Profile photo of
    Tania K Cowling

    I raised my babies back in the 70’s and how methods have changed today. From placing the child on their stomach to now allowing them to sleep on their backs. New discoveries have led to less incidents of SIDS — but so confusing, especially when my grandkids were born. I had to learn mothering techniques all over again. Nice article Kyla, and I enjoyed the video as well.

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      That’s exactly what I was thinking, Tania! It can be so confusing for grandparents who learned completely different ways to keep a baby safe while sleeping. It’s good for all of us adults to stay up to date of the latest research and to inform ourselves about the currently recommended practices. We never know when we might find ourselves needing to care for a little one, and we want to know what’s safest for that precious little life.

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