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Saving Lives By Preventing Sleep Accidents

Saving Lives By Preventing Sleep Accidents

Following Safe Sleep rules to prevent infant death.

As a new parent, few things are more terrifying than SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. And for decades, SIDS rates in the United States remained high, with seemingly no way to combat the phenomenon.

But one simple innovation changed all that.

“We started following Safe Sleep rules,” says Sheera Thomas, RN, a discharge facilitator and new mom educator at Sarasota Memorial, whose time as the Fetal Infant Mortality Review coordinator for Healthy Start Sarasota has made her an expert on how SIDS has affected the local community.


“And since we started following Safe Sleep rules,” she says, “SIDS rates have collapsed by about 50%.”

Rules for Safe Sleep

Safe Sleep rules are a short list of instructions on how to lay your baby down to sleep, so as to prevent common sleep accidents that lead to fatal suffocation.

These rules for safe sleep have been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, as supported by the latest studies on preventing infant death.

What's Up, Dad?

Dad can’t breastfeed, but he sure can help.

Whether this means preparing nutritious meals for mom or making sure she gets sleep when the baby isn’t feeding, dads have plenty of ways to be full partners in looking after a new baby.

  1. Place infants flat on their back to sleep
    Some people still want to lie their baby on its side, as though in a recovery position, in case the baby spits up in its sleep. “This is wrong,” Thomas says. “People who have thrown up in their sleep and died choking on vomit are rock stars who have been doing drugs and alcohol. It’s not the same risk.”
  2. Use a crib or sleeping area with a firm, flat mattress
    Softer or fluffier surfaces and materials that a baby will sink into can pose choking hazards.
  3. The crib should be empty
    With the exception of a well-fitted sheet, the baby’s sleeping area should completely clean of all pillows, blankets, toys, cushions and bumpers. “Nothing is supposed to be in there,” says Thomas. “They’ll move if they need to, and we just want to make sure they’re not moving into anything that can cause accidental suffocation.”
  4. No co-sleeping
    If mom or dad is tired, they should put the baby down to sleep in its own Safe Sleep area, while the parent naps nearby. Both a baby rolling into a parent and a parent rolling onto a baby can cause a fatal accident.

In addition to these rules, Thomas has two more of her own.

  1.  Don’t Give In To The Marketing

    Despite the rules on Safe Sleep being widespread and backed by more than two decades of evidence, there remains an entire industry dedicated to selling crib pillows and naptime toys to babies, despite the suffocation hazard they represent.

    “Things are allowed to be sold that shouldn’t actually be used,” says Thomas, who has seen mothers lose their children to toys marketed towards babies that are actually more appropriate for toddlers. “And it takes so long for these things to get pulled off the market,” she says. “So if you’re unsure, talk to your pediatrician.”

  2. Sleep When Baby Sleeps

    It’s something that Thomas tells every new mother. “But no one does,” she says. “They throw in a load of laundry or do some dishes instead.”

    The temptation is to use baby’s naptime to get other chores done, but sleep deprivation takes its toll and you can’t neglect your own health. “Your house is not going to be clean until they move out,” Thomas says. “Just take a nap.”

More Resources for New Parents

Sarasota Memorial is happy to host a variety of support groups and educational opportunities for new parents.

This includes weekly Latch Clinics for breastfeeding mothers, as well as weekly Mother-Baby Support Groups. To learn more, visit or call (941) 917-1700.

If you have more questions about Safe Sleep or SIDS prevention, contact your pediatrician or healthcare provider.

Or go to, a website dedicated to providing resources that keep all children safe and healthy.

Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky, and really needs a nap.