The cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is not known.
Putting infants to sleep on their back; removing pillows, bumper guards, and toys from the crib; protecting infants from overheating; and preventing infants from breathing second-hand cigarette smoke may help prevent SIDS.
Parents who have lost a child to SIDS should seek counseling and support groups.
Although sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS; also called crib death) is rare overall in the United States (about 1 in 1,000 births), it is one of the most common causes of death in infants between the ages of 2 weeks and 1 year. African American and Native American children have twice the average risk of SIDS. It most often affects children between the second month and fourth month of life. The syndrome occurs worldwide. There are many risk factors.
Risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome
Children who have or who are exposed to any of the following risk factors are at increased risk of SIDS:
Sleeping on the stomach (most important risk factor)
African American or Native American ethnicity
Brother or sister died of SIDS
Cold temperatures/winter months
Low birth weight
Mother has had many pregnancies
Mother under age 20
Mother smoked, drank alcohol, or used drugs during pregnancy
Old or unsafe crib
Overheating (caused by blankets or a hot room)
Pauses in breathing (apnea) that required resuscitation
Poor prenatal care
Sharing a bed with a parent or caretaker (bed-sharing or co-sleeping Co-sleeping Because the nervous system of newborns is immature, newborns sleep a great deal, but only for an hour or two at a time, regardless of whether it is day or night. By 4 to 6 weeks of age, many... read more )
Short amount of time between pregnancies
Smoking in the home
Upper respiratory tract infection
The cause of sudden infant death sydrome (SIDS) is unknown. It may be due to an abnormality in the control of breathing. Some infants with SIDS show signs of having had low levels of oxygen in their blood and having had periods when they stopped breathing (called apnea).
Laying infants down to sleep on their stomach and the use of soft bedding (such as pillows and lamb’s wool blankets) have been linked to SIDS. Sleeping together with an infant on a sofa, cushion, or bed (see Co-sleeping Co-sleeping Because the nervous system of newborns is immature, newborns sleep a great deal, but only for an hour or two at a time, regardless of whether it is day or night. By 4 to 6 weeks of age, many... read more ) also increases the risk of SIDS.
Did You Know...
Doctors cannot make the diagnosis of SIDS without an autopsy (an inspection and examination of a body after death) to rule out other causes of sudden, unexpected death (such as intracranial hemorrhage Bleeding in and around the brain Birth injury is damage that occurs as a result of physical pressure during the birthing process, usually during transit through the birth canal. Many newborns have minor injuries during birth... read more , meningitis Meningitis in Children Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection of the layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges). Bacterial meningitis in older infants and children usually results from bacteria... read more , or myocarditis Myocarditis Myocarditis is inflammation of the muscle tissue of the heart (myocardium) that causes tissue death. Myocarditis may be caused by many disorders, including infection, toxins and drugs that affect... read more ).
Doctors also need to assess whether the infant suffocated or died as the result of abuse.
Putting infants to sleep on their back
Despite the known risk factors for SIDS, there is no certain way to prevent it. However, certain measures seem to help, particularly putting infants to sleep on their back on a firm mattress. The number of SIDS deaths has decreased dramatically as more parents have put their infants to sleep on their back (see the Safe to Sleep® campaign). Parents should also remove pillows, bumper guards, and toys that could block an infant's breathing. Avoiding overwrapping and protecting infants from overheating may also help. Breastfeeding Breastfeeding Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns. Although babies may be fed breast milk or formula, the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusive... read more and preventing infants from breathing second-hand cigarette smoke may help and clearly have other health benefits.
There is no evidence that at-home breathing monitors reduce the risk of SIDS.
Resources for Parents Who Have Lost an Infant to SIDS
Most parents who have lost an infant to SIDS are grief-stricken and unprepared for the tragedy. They usually feel guilty. They may be further traumatized by investigations conducted by police, social workers, or others. Counseling and support from specially trained doctors and nurses and other parents who have lost an infant to SIDS are critical to helping parents cope with the tragedy. Specialists can recommend reading materials, web sites (such as the American SIDS Institute), and support groups to assist parents.
The following are some English-language resources that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of these resources.