What is SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome?

SIDS is the sudden unexpected death of a baby under 1 year of age. With SIDS, an autopsy will not reveal any certain cause of death, which is different from sudden death that may occur due to an existing disease. There are no symptoms of SIDS, and evidence suggests that babies who die of SIDS do not struggle or suffer prior to death. SIDS most often occurs between 2-4 months of age, and the vast majority of SIDS cases occur before a baby is 6 months of age. To learn more, click here to read the American Academy of Pediatrics' policy regarding SIDS.

What causes SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome?

There is no known single cause of SIDS, although there are several risk factors that appear to increase the chance of a baby dying from SIDS. The following risk factors have been identified:

1. Sleeping on the stomach rather than the back.

2. Sleeping in a bassinet or crib that has soft bedding (e.g., soft mattress, soft blanket).

3. Sleeping in the same bed as the parents.

4. Being one of several babies born simultaneously (i.e., being one of a set of twins, triplets, etc.), or being born prematurely.

5. Having little, late, or no prenatal care.

6. Having a short period of time between successive pregnancies.

7. Being born to a mother under the age of 20 years.

8. Being born to a mother who smokes, drinks alcohol, or uses illegal drugs.

9. Having a brother or sister who also died of SIDS.

10. Having little or no reliable financial resources (i.e., situations of poverty), and poor housing conditions.

How can SIDS be prevented?

SIDS prevention is an important and popular topic over the past two decades. Since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics first began telling parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs (the 'back to sleep' campaign), rates of SIDS have fallen dramatically (by about half). However, even since this time thousands of cases of SIDS occur each year in the United States, so it remains a significant cause of death in babies under 1 year of age.

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised their Parents' Guide to Safe Sleep. In this guide, the AAP recommends the following:

1. The risk of SIDS can be reduced even before your baby is born. During and after pregnancy, do not smoke or expose yourself to others who are smoking. Visit your gynecologist (doctor) for regular check-ups, which will reduce the chance that your baby will be premature or low birth weight.

Once your baby is born, there are several recommendations for reducing the risk of SIDS:

1. If possible, breastfeed your baby for at least 1 year.

2. Have your baby sleep in the same room with you (but NOT in your bed), such as in a crib or bassinet near the bed.

3. Do not put toys, soft mattresses, soft blankets, wedges, or pillows in your baby's crib or bassinet.

4. Always put your baby on his or her back during naps and nighttime sleep. Do not put your baby on their side or stomach.

5. Do not cover your baby with a blanket.

6. Do not over-bundle your baby with clothing, sleep-sacks, or blankets. This will prevent your baby from getting too hot.

7. Use a firm mattress and a tight-fitting sheet. All cribs and bassinets should be safety-approved by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association).

8. Always put the crib or bassinet in an area that is never exposed to smoke.

9. Never put your baby to sleep for a nap or nighttime in an adult-sized bad, recliner, chair, couch, water bed, or cushion.

10. All parents and caregivers should be trained in CPR. Find a local course, usually offered through a hospital, community center, the Red Cross, and American Heart Association. These courses are sometimes even covered by insurance. The American Heart Association also offers an at-home kit that includes a 22-minute CPR lesson and small dummy babies that you can practice on; click here for information on the at-home CPR lesson.

What do to if you suspect SIDS?

If your baby is not breathing or moving, begin CPR and call 911 immediately.