Dr. Ivor Is In: The Best Ways To Protect African American Babies From Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)


Going back to work after the birth of your first child—or any child for that matter—can be a tug of war for us moms, and the planning that goes into making sure you and your kids are ready for the transition can pull at the heartstrings. I know it did for me. When my three months of maternity leave came to an end, I was nervous, but ready: I had what I thought was a great sitter and a plan for my slow integration back into the workforce: I started on a Thursday so the week wouldn’t be too long;  I had an arsenal of breast milk in the freezer, and; my husband was on a “no travel” mandate in case I panicked. Anything and everything that I could have done to make sure my baby would be safe and I would be at peace was in place.

The first week went well, but my husband and I noticed that our daughter, who was already a difficult night time sleeper, would not fall asleep unless she was lying on our chest.  This made for some long nights in the rocking chair.  I was a mess!  No rest.  Long clinic days caring for other people’s children while missing my own and having all kinds of guilty feelings that the set back of our daughter’s nighttime routine was my fault for going back to work made for some pretty unhappy times in my mothering journey. But my great new babysitter assured me she was doing well when I was gone. 

I decided to make a “surprise” stop home after about a week and a half. After a morning of seeing patients, I made a dash home for lunch to check things out. When I opened the door, the babysitter, who was not a young woman, practically knocked me over running up the stairs to get my daughter. When she brought my baby downstairs, my daughter looked dazed; clearly, she’d been awakened from a sound sleep.  Still a bit off, but now curious, I took my daughter back upstairs to “feed her,” but I also wanted to check the scene.  And right there were the signs.  There was a receiving blanket strategically placed in the crib to catch the drool from my daughter sleeping on her tummy! 

I’m a pediatrician.  I’d talked to the sitter about Back to Sleep—how important it was to put the baby to sleep on her back.  How could she?  Angry does not describe what I felt.  Rage is more appropriate.  But I had to go back to work.  I had a full clinic schedule for the afternoon and no one to cover.  I prayed as I nursed my daughter and held back my tears so I wouldn’t give away what I knew—my rage or my plan.  I needed that woman to care for my child until I could FIRE her behind!  So I left the house shaking and praying.  I immediately called my husband when I got in the car, told him what happened and gave him the orders: get home ASAP, get that woman out of my house and make sure I never saw her again.  I cried and prayed, then gathered myself to see patients that afternoon.  Before I got home, the babysitter was relieved of her duties and my mother-in-law was booked on a flight to stay with us until we got a new sitter. 

I am sharing this story because I know we dodged a bullet.  Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is real and infants who are put to sleep on their stomachs are at greater risk. In fact 1 in 5 SIDS cases occur in childcare settings, where caregivers are more likely to put a child to sleep on her stomach. African American infants are twice as likely to die of SIDS as white infants. Though our numbers are improving, African Americans are more likely to put their infants on their stomachs to sleep. There are even websites that target people of color recommending bed sharing, which is also a risk for SIDS.

But the more we learn about SIDS, the better we can prevent it from happening.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently came out with new guidelines to promote safe sleep environments for infants. Here, the best ways to protect your most precious gift—your baby—from SIDS:

  1. Always place your baby on his or her back for every sleep time.
  2. Always use a firm sleep surface. Car seats and other sitting devices are not recommended for routine sleep.
  3. The baby should sleep in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed—room-sharing without bed-sharing reduces the risk of SIDS by helping to eliminate the chance of your child suffocating, getting tangled in sheets and blankets or being strangled by parents who can roll onto babies during sleep.
  4. Keep soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets, and bumper pads.
  5. Wedges, positioners, home monitors or any other object that claims to reduce the chance of SIDS should not be used.
  6. Pregnant woman should receive regular prenatal care.
  7. Don’t smoke during pregnancy or after birth.
  8. Breastfeeding is recommended.
  9. Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
  10. Avoid covering the infant’s head or overdressing her; overheating can be dangerous.
  11. Infants should receive all recommended vaccinations.
  12. Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development and minimize the occurrence of positional plagiocephaly (flat heads).

Share this information with your family, friends and anyone charged with caring for your child. Following each of these steps won’t guarantee your child doesn’t fall victim to SIDS, but they’ll do quite a job drastically reducing the risk.

Ivor Horn is a mom, practicing pediatrician and researcher with several publications in medical journals. She has appeared on the Today show and Good Morning America Health discussing health topics such as childhood obesity, puberty and breastfeeding. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband of more than 20 years and their two children. You can follow her on Twitter @DrIvorHorn.


1. {Dr. Ivor Is In} Flu Shots 101: The Best Reasons To Get Your Child Vaccinated
2. Going It Alone: Survey Says Black Mothers Get Little Help, Services & Support While Giving Birth
3. Erykah “Badoula” And The Business of Birthing: Can Midwifery Help Stem Black Infant Mortality Rates?
4. Salma Hayek, Kim Kardashian and “Creepy” Breastfeeding

{Read the MyBrownBaby disclosure for Dr. Ivor Is In here.}

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Wow! I’m the middle of interviewing nannies, and this makes me even more nervous to leave my baby with anyone other than me.

    • We are all nervous the first time we leave our babies with someone else. That’s normal. There are great caregivers out there. Our next babysitter was amazing. The message to take away from my experience is to make sure your wishes are clear and listen to your “mommy instinct.”

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