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How grandparents can keep babies safe

By BRUCE A. EPSTEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2001


Many grandparents today are raising their grandchildren. Others are caring for grandchildren while the baby's parents are at work. As a grandparent today, it is almost certain that, at some time, you will be taking care of your infant grandchild while he or she is sleeping.

What a lot of grandparents do not know is that the guidelines for safe sleeping have changed since their children were babies. When you first see your grandchildren sleeping, they will be on their backs, not their stomachs. It is important to know why the rules have changed: Putting an infant to sleep on his or her back will greatly reduce the baby's risk of dying from the mysterious but tragic disease known as sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. It is important that grandparents are comfortable with these new recommendations and support their grandchild's parents by placing the baby on his or her back to sleep!

What is SIDS?

SIDS stands for sudden infant death syndrome. It means that a baby dies in its sleep and the doctors cannot find any other cause of death. SIDS occurs quickly and without warning. It is a natural cause of death and is not anyone's fault. SIDS happens in families of every background. Some people refer to SIDS as "crib death" since it happens to babies who are sleeping. Sleeping in a crib does not cause a baby to die of SIDS. In fact, a crib is the safest place for your grandchild to sleep.

How should a baby be placed for sleep?

For nighttime and naps, always place a baby on his or her back to sleep. If your grandchild falls asleep on his stomach while playing, immediately turn him over onto his back as soon as you see that he is asleep.

When my children were babies, the doctor said to place them on their stomachs for sleep. They did okay. Why can't I place my grandchild to sleep on his stomach? A few years ago, researchers discovered that babies who sleep on their stomachs have a greater chance of dying of SIDS than those who sleep on their backs. The number of SIDS deaths in this country has dropped by 38 percent since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics first began telling families to put babies to sleep on their backs.

If your grandchild spits up while lying on her back, isn't she in danger of choking? No. In all of the research studies done on infant sleep position and SIDS, there have been no incidents of babies choking on "spit-up" in their sleep. Millions of babies in other countries sleep on their backs without choking in their sleep.

Are blankets okay to use so he can stay warm? No. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that a baby sleep without anything in the crib. This includes bumper pads, stuffed toys, pillows, quilts, comforters and blankets. A baby will generally be comfortable at the same room temperature that the parents find comfortable. If you feel the baby is cold, dress her in a sleeper garment instead of using a blanket. Babies should sleep on a firm mattress that fits tightly into the crib. Never put a baby to sleep on top of a quilt, comforter, sleeping bag, sofa or chair cushion or other soft surface.

If you don't have a crib at your house, should your grandchild sleep in bed with you? No. Doctors recommend that babies should sleep alone. A crib is the safest place for baby to sleep. It is especially important that your grandchild not share a bed with other children and/or with an adult who has been using alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs) or who does not wake up easily. The safest place for baby to sleep is a crib that meets the safety guidelines of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. If you don't have a crib, you could use a bassinet, portable crib or playpen (be sure that the sides of the playpen are all the way up). Again, if one of these items is used for sleep, be sure that it meets CPSC safety guidelines.

Is it all right to smoke in another room while the baby is visiting? The risk for SIDS -- as well as for asthma, allergies and respiratory infections -- is greater for babies who are exposed to smoke. Since smoke drifts and can cling to rugs, curtains and furniture, you should not smoke -- or allow others to smoke -- in the house if your grandchild will be visiting. Be sure not to smoke or allow smoking in the car when your grandchild is a passenger.

How else can you help make sure that your grandchild stays healthy? If baby's mother is breastfeeding, encourage her. Breast milk has been shown to reduce the incidence of SIDS. Encourage the parents to take the baby to her doctor for regular well-baby visits and to get all the required immunizations.

And, of course, babies thrive on love. So while you are providing for his safety by supporting "back to sleep," don't forget to enjoy your grandchild and give him lots of kisses, hugs and love.

Guidelines for safe sleep

Place your grandchild on his or her back to sleep at night and nap time.

A safety-approved crib with a firm mattress is the best place for baby to sleep.

If you do not have a crib -- or if the only crib you have is old or secondhand -- your grandchild can sleep in a safety-approved bassinet, portable crib or playpen.

Remove quilts, comforters, pillows, and other fluffy bedding and toys from your grandchild's sleep area.

Do not place your grandchild to sleep on an adult bed on top of a comforter, quilt or blanket.

Your grandchild should not sleep in an adult or youth bed with another person.

Be sure your grandchild's head and face stay uncovered while he or she sleeps.

Do not keep the room where baby is sleeping too warm.

Do not let anyone smoke around your grandchild. If possible, have the baby sleep in a house where people are not allowed to smoke.

Help your grandchild's parents to explain these safe sleep guidelines to other relatives and friends.

Adapted with permission from a fact sheet written by the Infant Mortality Risk Reduction Work Team of the National SIDS and Infant Death Program Support Center. For more information about SIDS, contact the SIDS Alliance (http://www.sidsalliance.org).

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