Crib Death Lowered by Using Fans in Baby’s Room

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The cause of crib death, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has been a mystery for years. New findings published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine show that placing a fan in the baby’s room decreases crib death by 72%.

Pediatricians have recommended placing babies on their backs instead of their stomachs to sleep and this has lowered the number of SIDS deaths by more than half. Despite this, SIDS continues to be the leading cause of death in babies under the age of one.

The latest research was conducted with an NIH grant by Kaiser Permanente Northern California and included 497 infants. The researchers interviewed mothers of 185 infants who died from SIDS and compared them with 312 infants of similar race and age. They found that the simple use of a fan, in conjunction with having the babies sleep on their backs, avoid soft bedding, not share a bed with other children and use a pacifier, dropped the risk by 72%.

This study did not answer the question of why the fan is effective. Perhaps the circulation of air by the fan moves exhaled carbon dioxide away from the baby’s face. There have been some accounts of SIDS babies having brain abnormalities that prevent them from gasping and awakening when they do not get enough oxygen. SIDS deaths are most likely to occur when babies are between the ages of two months and four months, and deaths peak in the winter months. Sleeping in a room with an open window was also found to lower risk, although the association was not significant.

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Other recommendations to keep babies safe come from the American Academy of Pediatrics and they include:

* Not sharing the bed when parents are sleeping.

* Infants should be put to sleep on a firm mattress and soft objects, stuffed toys, pillows and quilts should be removed from the bed.

* Avoid overheating and the room they sleep in should not be too hot.

* Mothers should not smoke and babies should not be exposed to second hand smoke. Smoking during pregnancy is one of the strongest risk factors for SIDS.

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New to the discussion: Ceiling fans make more sense in a nursery, because unlike plug-in floor or table fans, parents won’t have to worry about safety issues such as tripping over cords or the fan being knocked down by a toddler or pet. Industrial designer Ron Rezek, who created the first contemporary ceiling fan in 1986 when his children were small, says on low speed ceiling fans also lull babies to sleep. But more important, Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente’s division of research in Oakland, Calif., told the New York Times: “If parents wanted to do more to reduce the baby’s SIDS risk, they can add a fan.”