What your baby eats helps keep him safe while he sleeps

Previously, I explained how safe sleeping practices can prevent SIDS. Today, I’m going to talk about how you feed your baby and how your own health and behavior can help reduce your infant’s SIDS risk. Believe it or not, all of these things have an effect on your infant’s safety during sleep.

Breast milk is the best nutrition for your baby for many reasons, including decreasing the chances of infections, obesity and allergies. But did you know breast milk also lowers your baby’s chance of SIDS? Any breastfeeding helps to protect against SIDS, but the longer you are able to breastfeed your baby, the better. And this protection is improved if the breastfeeding is “exclusive,” meaning you give no other nutrition to your baby.

It is recommended to breastfeed exclusively until six months of age, at which time other foods can begin to be introduced. And breastfeeding should continue until your baby is at least 1 year old.

Sometimes moms pump and feed expressed breast milk. Pumped breast milk also lowers your baby’s chance of SIDS. Remember that if you bring your baby into your bed to feed overnight, be sure to put him back in his own safe sleep space after feeding.

Making sure to take care of your own health also helps reduce your baby’s chance of SIDS and sleep-related deaths. It’s important not to smoke, both during pregnancy and after giving birth. Having smoke around the baby makes the chance of SIDS higher, so make sure no other people smoke around the baby, either.

Remember to also avoid alcohol and illicit drugs (also called “street drugs”), while pregnant and when caring for your baby. Medications that cause you to be sleepy could also be a concern. Talk to your doctor if you feel your medicine makes you too sleepy to care for your baby. And never fall asleep with the baby in a bed, couch or chair, especially if under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medicines that make you sleepy. Babies are more likely to stop breathing or suffocate in these situations.

Getting good prenatal care is linked to a lower chance of SIDS — another important reason to take care of your health while pregnant. Following these tips can help lower your baby’s chance of SIDS and other sleep related deaths.

Author Laura Lawler, M.D., FAAP, is chief of Pediatric Hospitalists at Christiana Care.