Baby sleeping on back to reduce risk of SIDS

What Is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

October 02, 2019
4 min read

You might have heard of SIDS, a topic of concern for parents of young children. SIDS stands for sudden infant death syndrome. Although the causes of SIDS are not fully known, there are steps you can take to create a safe sleep environment for your baby and to help prevent SIDS.

Read on to find out more about what SIDS is, what causes SIDS, what some of the risk factors may be, and what you can do to help prevent it.

What's in this article:

SIDS Explained How Common Is SIDS? When Does the Risk of SIDS Decrease? Safe Sleep and SIDS Prevention Tips SIDS Risk Factors and Causes

SIDS Explained

SIDS is defined as an unexplained and unexpected death of an otherwise healthy baby who is less than 1 year old. SIDS is sometimes called crib death because it usually happens when the baby is sleeping.

How Common Is SIDS?

If you’re wondering just how common SIDS is, statistics show SIDS is rare in the United States. Based on data from 2017, the rate of SIDS was 35.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. This means that SIDS affected under 0.04 percent of all live births in the United States.

When Does the Risk of SIDS Decrease?

A natural question you might have is when you can stop worrying about the risk of SIDS. Most SIDS deaths occur in the first several months of a baby’s life, and in fact, infants are most vulnerable between the second and fourth months.

The SIDS risk significantly decreases after your baby turns 6 months old and is rolling over, which is a sign she is developing head and neck control.

Safe Sleep and SIDS Prevention Tips

It’s important to know what you can do to help prevent SIDS. Take these steps to help keep your baby safe and lower the risk of SIDS:

  • Put your baby to sleep on his back. Do this every single time for the first year of his life, and tell anyone else who may care for him that this is a must, whether it’s for a nap or to sleep at night. A good way to remember is with the expression “Back to sleep.” Some babies turn onto their stomach or side on their own after being placed on their backs; it’s OK to leave them in that position, experts say, as long as they are able to roll over in both directions without help.
  • Keep the crib bare. Make sure the mattress in the crib is firm and fits the crib perfectly without leaving any gaps at the sides. Avoid using any padding, blankets, comforters, pillows, bumper pads, or quilts. Only a tight fitted sheet should be used—no loose bedding. Never place toys in the crib—not even soft teddy bears. These fluffy surfaces and objects can interfere with your baby’s breathing.
  • Move your baby to a firm surface. Sometimes your baby may fall asleep in the car seat, stroller, or sling. Move him to a firm sleep surface as soon as possible. Never put your baby to sleep on a waterbed or a cushion.
  • Don’t let your baby become overheated. Avoid letting your baby get too hot, as this increases the SIDS risk. Make sure his head isn’t covered when you put him to bed. Ensure the air temperature is comfortable for you—make sure it’s not too hot. Dress your baby in no more than one extra layer than you would wear, and don’t use blankets. Instead, try a wearable blanket or a sleep sack with no hood, or footie pajamas. If your baby’s head is hot and sweaty, or if his chest feels hot, he’s too warm.
  • Let your baby sleep in your room. While this depends on your personal preferences, experts recommend your baby sleep in your room with you, but alone in a crib. If possible, try this up until he’s 12 months old, and consider keeping the crib or bassinet at about an arm’s length away from your bed.
  • Don’t sleep with your baby. Sleeping in the same bed as your baby isn’t recommended, and here’s why: It increases the SIDS risk because you can accidentally roll onto your child as you sleep, and the baby is at risk of becoming entangled in the bedding.
  • Breastfeed your baby. If you can, breastfeed for at least the first six months. Research suggests this can significantly reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Have skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin contact has many benefits. You can practice it while breastfeeding or bottle feeding, or any other time throughout the day. Dad can do it, too.
  • Don’t rely on a SIDS baby monitor. Experts discourage the use of monitors and other devices that claim to reduce SIDS, because they have been found to be ineffective.
  • Offer a pacifier. Sucking on a pacifier at naptime and bedtime might reduce the risk of SIDS. But don’t use pacifiers with a strap or string, or ones that attach to clothing. If you’re breastfeeding, wait until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old and you’ve settled into a nursing routine before offering a pacifier. If the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth while he is sleeping, don’t put it back in.
  • Make sure your baby gets all necessary vaccines. Some research indicates immunizations can help prevent SIDS.
  • No smoking around your baby. Don’t smoke near your baby, and keep your car and home smoke free, too. Keep your baby away from places where people smoke.
  • Make sure baby beds and gear are safe. The crib, bassinet, stroller, and play yard should all meet current safety standards. Do not use the item if it’s broken, and if you’re borrowing or using a hand-me-down, make sure it meets current regulations.
  • Provide tummy time. Give your baby plenty of tummy time when he’s awake, as it helps strengthen his neck and back muscles. Remember to supervise tummy time, making sure that your baby remains awake.

This is a lot to take in, but this slogan might help. Just remember the ABCs of Safe Sleep: Your baby should always sleep

  • ALONE;
  • on her BACK;
  • in a CRIB.
Safe sleep chart, showing how to decrease the risk of SIDS

SIDS Risk Factors and Causes

It’s not known exactly what causes SIDS, but there may be some environmental factors that make a baby more vulnerable to SIDS, as well as maternal, physical, and general factors that may increase the risk. These are described here in more detail:

Sleep Environmental Factors

Some sleep factors that increase SIDS risk include:

  • Back or side sleeping position. Babies who are placed on their stomach or side may have more difficulty breathing than those placed on their backs.
  • Sleeping on a soft surface. Sleeping on a cushy comforter, a soft mattress, or a waterbed can block a baby’s airways.
  • Sharing a bed. Sleeping in the same bed as the parents, siblings, or pets increases the risk of SIDS, because of the potential for blocking the baby’s airways.
  • Overheating. Being too warm while sleeping can increase the risk of SIDS.

Maternal Risk Factors

Even before birth, moms-to-be can also unwittingly contribute to their baby’s SIDS risk. Maternal risk factors include if a mom

  • is younger than 20
  • smokes cigarettes
  • consumes drugs or alcohol
  • has had inadequate prenatal care. That’s why it’s important to schedule and go to all your prenatal visits.

Physical Factors

These are some of the physical risk factors that may increase a baby’s risk of SIDS:

  • Brain defects. In some babies, the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep hasn’t matured enough to work properly, making them more vulnerable to SIDS.
  • Low birth weight. Premature babies, or those who are twins or other multiples, may not have developed full control over their breathing and heart rate yet, potentially making them more vulnerable.
  • Respiratory infection. Having recently had a cold may contribute to breathing problems for babies, which can increase the risk.

General Risk Factors

Although the exact cause or causes of sudden infant death syndrome are unknown, these factors may contribute to the overall risk:

  • Sex. Boys are slightly more likely to be affected by SIDS.
  • Age. Infants are most vulnerable between the second and fourth months of life.
  • Race. Non-white babies are more at risk.
  • Family history. There’s a higher risk among babies who’ve had siblings or cousins die of SIDS.
  • Tobacco smoke. Babies who live with smokers are at an increased risk.
  • Premature birth and low birth weight. Being born early and/or having a low birth weight can increase the risk.

FAQs at a Glance

  • Q : How do you prevent SIDS?
  • Q : When can you stop worrying about SIDS?

SIDS is a risk that almost all parents worry about. Keep in mind that SIDS is very rare, and if you take these precautions consistently throughout your baby’s first year of life, you can help reduce the risk even further.

See all sources
All sources links

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:SIDS

Mayo Clinic: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Healthy Children: Preventing SIDS

Book: Caring for your baby and young child birth to age 5, Sixth Edition Paperback – November 2, 2014 by American Academy of Pediatrics (Author)

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