Q&A: How long do I have to worry about apnea and SIDS risk?
My son was born at about four months premature. During the time he was in the hospital he had spells where he would not breathe and had to be jiggled by the nurse to get his breathing started again. He had these spells up until several days before he came home and the doctor sent him home on a heart monitor. When he was about 3 months old the doctor took the monitor away because my son had not had any alarms for two months. But I am afraid that the spells may come back and he will die of SIDS.
Let me start by telling you that your fears are very understandable. It is quite common for parents who’ve been through the experience of having a premature baby with a past history of stopping breathing to worry that these spells—typically referred to as “apneic” episodes—will re-occur. Your description of your son’s progress and how he hasn’t had any spells in recent months, along with the fact that premature infants often outgrow these apneic episodes (rather than having them randomly show up as they get older) may well explain why your son’s doctor was comfortable taking him off the monitor. Of course, you should definitely not hesitate to discuss any and all concerns you have with your doctor—whether it’s just a lingering fear based on your past experiences or one that’s based on something you’ve noticed about your son’s current behavior or breathing that is causing you to worry.
In the meantime, let me also assure you that parents of premature infants are not the only ones who worry about Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). I think a certain degree of worry is natural and even healthy for all parents, especially if it leads them to take several simple but important measures to prevent SIDS. While we still don’t know exactly what causes it, there are fortunately many things you can do to significantly reduce the risk of SIDS. Recommendations for creating a safe sleep environment typically include:
- Putting babies to sleep on their backs
- Using a firm, tight-fitting mattress with a snug-fitting crib sheet in a crib that is properly assembled, has no sharp edges or pieces, and meets all current safety standards
- Keeping any and all soft, fluffy items, including blankets, bumpers, pillows, toys, and stuffed animals, out of the crib
- Avoiding the use of positioning devices such as side sleepers. They are not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous
- Keeping cribs (and playpens) away from windows, cords, monitors, and any other potential fall or strangulation hazards
- Making sure the air babies breathe—both at night and during the day—is always smoke-free. Secondhand smoke exposure has been shown to increase the risk of SIDS (not to mention have all sorts of negative effects on babies’ health)
- Offering a pacifier as babies are falling asleep, as this too is thought to potentially reduce the risk of SIDS during the first year