SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is something many parents fear while their babies are young. But witnessing a baby lost to SIDS makes that abstract fear more tangible and adds to that anxiety. Teen Mom OG's Amber Portwood opened up about losing her sister to SIDS and how it has impacted her parenting. But as scary as SIDS may be, experts have learned more about it over the years and have updated recommendations to greatly reduce a child's risk.
Portwood talked about a painful loss during Tuesday's episode of Teen Mom OG: Unseen Moments, as People reported. She said that her younger sister died of SIDS more than 20 years ago. The decision to share her story came from her desire to look after her infant son James Andrew herself as opposed to relying on a nurse or a doula for help. “The thing is, my sister died from SIDS when I was 5,” she said, according to People. “She was an infant just like him. And it’s really scary for us. And I just feel like I want to be the one watching him.”
She went on to explain how seeing her sister affected her. “It was hard,” Portwood said, according to In Touch Weekly. “I remember watching them bringing her out on a stretcher. … It’s one of the worst things that I’ve ever really seen in my life.” The experience shaped her experience as a parent.
But fears linked to the loss of her sister aren't the only reason that Portwood worries about James. Her other child, Leah, who is now 10, suffered from sleep apnea. Caring for Leah taught her a lot about getting help when you need it, even if you want to be the one caring for your child. "It’s just like with Leah, you know, when she had the sleep apnea, me and Gary brought her straight into the hospital to get the testing done because we were so scared about it," she said during the episode. "So it’s not a bad thing to get help when you’re tired and you need sleep, but it means a little bit more to me than what people know."
Portwood's fears are perfectly understandable, especially considering the loss of her sister. But she and other new moms can take comfort in the strides that experts have taken to minimize this terrifying risk. Since the launch of the Back to Sleep campaign — now known as Safe to Sleep — cases of SIDS have dropped by half, according to Parents. Unfortunately, SIDS is still linked to roughly 2,500 infant deaths every year. But following safe sleep guidelines can go a long way towards protecting your little ones.
While there is no single known cause of SIDS, according to the Mayo Clinic, experts believe that it has to do with the arousal center in infants brains being less capable of waking themselves up when they are struggling to breathe. Marian Willinger, Ph.D., special assistant for SIDS at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in Bethesda, Maryland told Parents that "the peak danger is between two and four months," but parents should be diligent until their child turns 1 year old.
Infants who sleep on their stomachs are more vulnerable to SIDS, according to the American SIDS Institute, so it is important to put babies to sleep on their backs. And while it is tempting to bring your baby in bed with you when they're fussy, the ASI urges you not to.
"Babies should be safely put in a bare crib on their backs even when they are fretful, have a cold, or are otherwise needing extra comfort," the ASI advises. "Just keep the crib close to you and you will both be comforted. Babies with colds are at higher risk for sudden infant death."
Additionally, parents should use a firm mattress with a tightly fitting sheet on it and nothing else in the crib, according to Parents. Bumper pads, pillows, props, and blankets increase risk, the AAP reported. Body temperature has been linked to SIDS risk as well, according to the American SIDS Institute, so babies should be kept warm but not hot. Room sharing, but not bed sharing, it also recommended, as the AAP noted.
Portwood shares her fear with many other parents to young children, myself included. The possibility of losing a child can be anxiety inducing to say the least. But instead of letting that fear control you, parents can take steps to reduce their child's risk.