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How EMS can train parents to understand, prevent SIDS

EMS providers need to know and share the updated American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep recommendations with parents and caregivers of infants


A firm crib mattress covered by a sheet is the safest bedding. Keep all soft toys and stuffed animals out of your child’s crib throughout infancy.

Photo courtesy Sarah Calams

To tell someone their loved one is dead is one of the toughest tasks an EMS provider has to do. When the victim is a child, that task becomes infinitely more difficult. When the suspicion is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, that silent killer of infants, how can you possibly make any sense of the situation to the parents? How do you tell a mother that her infant, who was fine just an hour ago, is now dead?

These are the moments that EMS provider nightmares are made of and that each of us dreads. My nightmare moment came many years ago, after resuscitation efforts on a 7-month-old infant failed. During the entire time, I couldn’t help but see my own infant son in the eyes of the child I was trying to save. Even now my eyes get more than a little moist thinking back to that call and the moment I had to tell the young mother that our efforts were not going to be successful.

How do any of us make any sense of this type of tragic, sudden death?

Advocate for safe sleep
We’ve come a long way since that awful night in 1992. While the actual underlying cause or causes of SIDS are still unknown, efforts have been successful in reducing its incidence. Since the 1994 launch of the Back to Sleep campaign, which is now called Safe to Sleep, by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the incidence of SIDS deaths have fallen by nearly 50 percent. Over 75 percent of parents responding to a 2006 survey reported that their infants slept supine, compared to only 13 percent in 1992.

However, as this American Academy of Pediatrics technical project reveals, the decreasing trend in SIDS deaths has bottomed out. New guidelines and recommendations for safe infant sleeping environment suggest that an infant sleeping in the same room as the parent, but in a separate bed, has a lower risk of SIDS. Infants should not be put to sleep on soft surfaces such as couches or arm chairs. Pillows, bumpers and soft toys should not be in the crib with the infant. Early skin-to-skin contact between parent and infant is strongly recommended.

EMS providers can play a significant role in spreading the safe infant sleeping environment guidelines to parents. A quick inspection of a bedroom or crib during a medical incident may point out potential hazards that increase the chance of SIDS. Print and distribute Safe to Sleep door hangers to parents and caregivers at events. Educating parents with just in time training may be effective in changing their behavior when placing an infant down to sleep.

While you may never know if your efforts will make a difference, knowing that there is a possibility makes it worth the effort.

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of “EMT Exam for Dummies,” has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.