Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Author: Alyssa Jonet

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What is SIDS?

SIDS is defined as the sudden and silent death of an infant less that 1 year of age that cannot be explained after an investigation that includes a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene and a review of the clinical records. SIDS happens in families of all social, economic, and ethnic groups. SIDS is not contagious or predictable.


Almost all SIDS deaths happen without warning or symptoms. Most happen when the baby is sleeping.


Although the cause of SIDS is unknown, many factors increase the chance of SIDS to occur. No single risk factor is sufficient to cause a SIDS. Rather, multiple risk factors combined may cause an at risk infant to die from SIDS.

Physical Factors

  • Brain abnormalities - Some babies that died from SIDS have a problem with the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep.
  • Respiratory Infection - Many babies recently had a cold, which may led to an infection.
  • Low birth weight - Premature babies have an increased chance to have an immature brain. Therefore, they have less control over automatic processes like breathing and heart rate.
Sleep Environmental Factors
  • Sleeping on sides or stomach - This may make breathing difficult for the baby.
  • Sleeping on a soft surface - Lying on a soft comforter or draping a blanket over a baby can block the baby's airway.
  • Sleeping with the parents - There are more soft surfaces that a baby can come in contact with, which will impair the baby's breathing.
Risk Factors
  • Age - Babies are more vulnerable to die from SIDS in the first or second month of life.
  • Race - Black, American Indian, and Eskimo infants are more likely to develop SIDS.
  • Sex - Boys have a higher risk to die from SIDS.
  • Secondhand smoke - Babies who live with smokers have a higher risk of SIDS.
  • Family History - Babies who have had siblings or cousins that died from SIDS have an increased chance.
Maternal Risk Factors
  • Mothers who are younger than 20, smoke cigarettes, use drugs or alcohol, and have inadequate prenatal care are more likely to have a baby that develops SIDS.

Reduce the Risk

  • Place the baby on a firm mattress
  • Do not use bumper pads. They increase the risk of suffocation and strangulation.
  • Confirm that your baby has received all immunizations.
  • Make sure the room the baby sleeps in is a comfortable temperature. If the room is too hot the baby may fall into a deep sleep and have difficulties waking up.
  • Mothers should not smoke, drink or use alcohol.
  • Mothers need early and regular prenatal care.
  • Baby has regular and frequent check-ups.
  • Breastfeed if possible because the breast milk helps prevent infections.
  • If the baby has GERD, follow all the doctor's directions.
  • Put your baby to sleep with a pacifier.
  • Have the baby sleep in the parent's room, but not with the parents.
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The cause of a death of an infant only can be determined by collecting information and performing complex tests.

-Four main investigations must happen prior to determining the infant died from SIDS.

  • Postmortem Lab Tests - Tests done to rule out other causes of death.
  • Autopsy - This provides clues as to the cause of death. The autopsy findings in SIDS usually are supportive, rather than conclusive, findings to explain SIDS.
  • Thorough Investigation of the Death Scene - This includes interviewing parents, other caregivers, and family members. Also, they collect items from the scene to evaluate it. The investigation may reveal a possibly preventable cause of death.
  • Family Medical History - It is important to note the family history including: unexpected infant death, sudden cardiac death, brain abnormalities, or metabolic or genetic disorders.


  • SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants 1 year old or younger, and takes 2,500 lives each year in the United States.
  • About 1,500 infants died from SIDS in 2013
  • Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended putting babies to sleep on their backs and not their stomach in 1992, the rate of SIDS dropped by more than 50%.
  • Studies have shown that babies who have received all immunizations have a 50% lower risk of SIDS.
  • In the past, SIDS occurred more frequently during the cooler months. Currently the rates are starting to even out.
  • SIDS rates have dropped steadily in all ethnic groups, but some ethnic groups are still at high risk.
  • 90% of SIDS deaths occur before the baby reaches 6 months of age.
  • A Scottish study showed that 87% of SIDS deaths occurred in unsafe sleeping environments.
  • 20% of SIDS deaths occur in childcare settings.
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45% of infant deaths in 2013 were from SIDS

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The SIDS births have declined since 1990

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Infants who have the ethnicity of American Indian or Alaska Native are more likely to die from SIDS

What to do if your family is affected?

Families are encouraged to seek counseling and support. Programs offer 24/7 crisis hotlines and provide necessary grief materials and resources to those affected.


  • American SIDS Institute - (800) 232-7437 or (770) 426-8746
  • The Back to Sleep Hotline - (800) 505-2742
  • The CJ Foundation for SIDS - Look on the website for information and help.
  • First Candle - Offers counseling and materials
  • The National SIDS / Infant Death Resource Center - Provides information
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Works Cited

Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

"Data and Statistics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Oct. 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

"Fast Facts About SIDS." Fast Facts About SIDS. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

Jr., Floyd. "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)." KidsHealth - the Web's Most Visited Site about Children's Health. The Nemours Foundation, 1 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

"Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Causes, Symptoms, Treatment - Exams and Tests - EMedicineHealth." EMedicineHealth. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

"Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)." Risk Factors. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

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