SIDS is a tragic occurrence that is still largely unexplainable; however, over the years, studies have shown several solutions that have proven to lower the risk of SIDS. The most popular preventative measure to date is back sleeping, which has been promoted by the “Back to Sleep” campaign. This campaign is promoted by most pediatric offices, and it encourages parents to place babies to sleep on their backs. This practice is believed to prevent suffocation and unnecessary inhalation of carbon dioxide.
Stale-air hypothesis is the belief that a baby can inhale the carbon dioxide that he or she exhales in the normal breathing process. This can prove fatal in respiration, because oxygen, not carbon dioxide, is what should be inhaled. When a baby sleeps on his or her stomach, the nose might be too close to the mattress to ensure proper ventilation. In this case, the baby breathes in carbon dioxide, or “stale air” that has not been properly circulated.
A study released in October of 2008 by the Kaiser Foundation indicated a 72 percent decrease in the risk of SIDS when the babies’ rooms were ventilated by the use of a fan.
Initially, overheating was believed to be the cause of SIDS, but upon further investigation, doctors suggest that lack of ventilation might be the culprit in some cases. Fans and open windows have both been linked to a decrease in SIDS cases.
A few additional factors believed to contribute to SIDS include stomach sleeping, caregivers smoking, and bed-sharing. During the 1990s, the Back to Sleep campaign proved highly successful in decreasing the incidences of SIDS; however, it is believed that many new parents today do not adhere to this advice.
Kaiser Permanente emphasizes this study as an association rather than a definitive link. With the limited study sample, there is merely a correlation between the use of fans and a decreased risk of SIDS, but correlation does not necessarily equal causality in this case.
SIDS experts stress the importance of keeping with the Back to Sleep campaign, and they state that the use of fans should not take the place of back sleeping. Because the cause of SIDS is still largely unknown, it is important for parents of newborns to adhere to all SIDS precautions. To maximize the safety of the baby’s environment, he or she should have the following four criteria in the sleeping area: 1) a smoke-free environment, 2) a fan for ventilation, 3) light clothing and no loose sheets, and 4) a pacifier, if the baby will take one.