National SIDS Awareness Month warns parents

October is a time to raise awareness of many health conditions, including breast cancer, Down syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). While all of these are serious, new parents need to be especially cautious of SIDS, which can occur during baby development before the her or his first birthday. It happens suddenly and unexpectedly. After an autopsy, a healthcare professional can determine the cause, which may be suffocation, asphyxia, infection, a metabolic disease or cardiac arrest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The agency reports that there are 4,200 SIDS deaths every year in the United States, and it's the leading cause of death for infants between 1 and 12 months old.

Parents can create a safe sleeping space
Mom and dad need to be especially careful not put their newborn in a position that could endanger him or her during the night or daytime naps. For instance, soft bedding, like a pillow, could suffocate a young baby. In addition, when selecting a crib, it's important that there isn't a gap between the mattress and the frame, in which an infant could get trapped, or wide railings that a baby's head could get stuck between.

There are also some simple steps that parents can take to reduce their child's risk of SIDS. The CDC recommends that they always place a baby on his or her back to sleep, keep all toys and objects out the crib and don't allow the the infant to overheat while sleeping. All babies should sleep on a firm mattress covered by a fitted sheet. In addition, breastfeeding and choosing not to smoke during pregnancy and after delivery can reduce the likelihood of SIDS.

"In recent years, we've learned that many of the risk factors for SIDS are similar to those for other sleep-related causes of infant death," said Alan Guttmacher, M.D., director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "Placing infants on their backs to sleep and providing them with a safe sleep environment for every sleep time reduces the risk for SIDS as well as death from other causes, such as suffocation."

What are some precautions you took to prevent your baby from having SIDS? Do you have any advice for concerned new parents? Leave your answers in the comments section!