Sudden Infant Death Syndrome isn’t a disease, it’s a
– when an infant under the age of 1 suddenly dies during sleep
and the cause is unexplained, a diagnosis of SIDS is given.
What is SIDS? Sudden Infant Death Syndrome isn’t a disease, it’s a diagnosis – when an infant under the age of 1 suddenly dies during sleep and the cause is unexplained, a diagnosis of SIDS is given. Usually, the diagnosis is given if doctors can’t determine the cause of an infant’s death after an autopsy, review of medical records and a comprehensive review of family medical history. Because most babies sleep in cribs, the syndrome is also known as “crib death,” though cribs are not the cause of SIDS. According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SIDS is the third leading cause of infant death in the United States and the leading cause of death among infants ages 1–12 months.

What causes SIDS?

There is no known cause for SIDS. Some studies now suggest certain babies are born with abnormalities in the parts of the brain that control sleep and breathing. Certain sleeping practices can exacerbate these abnormalities, resulting in death. Babies born with these abnormalities or any other defects in the brain may be more prone to SIDS.

Does SIDS have any symptoms?

No. Some postmortem investigations have shown babies who fell victim to SIDS had lower levels of vitamin C and the aforementioned brain abnormalities, but there is no way to detect this while the baby is still alive. Recently, studies have suggested SIDS victims exhibited signs of hearing loss earlier in their development, but there is no way to differentiate a SIDS risk from other types of hearing loss.

Are babies at a greater risk for SIDS if they have older siblings who have died from SIDS?

There is some evidence that suggests a baby dying from SIDS will increase the risk for subsequent babies in the same crib. While no definitive evidence explains why, there are numerous theories, such as fungal rot on old crib bedding producing gases toxic to newborns.

At what age is SIDS most likely to occur? Is there an age where you can stop worrying about it?

There is no way of predicting if a newborn will die from SIDS. It occurs between birth and age 1, although 90 percent of SIDS deaths occur within the first six months. After age 1, the risk of SIDS decreases dramatically.

Is there a vaccination for SIDS? And can vaccines cause SIDS?

No. SIDS has no discernable cause – vaccinations will only prevent a virus from harming the baby. However, babies begin their primary round of vaccinations from 2 to 4 months of age, when they are at highest risk for SIDS. Multiple studies have been conducted to determine if these vaccines were related to SIDS deaths, but none found evidence of a link.

What is ‘Back to Sleep’?

Back to Sleep is a campaign sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The initiative advocates placing infants to sleep on their backs in order to reduce the risk of SIDS. The program was launched in 1994 after the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation that babies sleep only on their backs or sides (and later, just their backs). Since the program was launched, incidences of SIDS have declined more than 50 percent.

Does back sleeping limit a child’s development?

No. While moving on their stomachs is necessary and healthy for children and enables them to form stronger head, neck and arm muscles, this should only be done when the babies are awake and someone is watching.

Parents concerned about “flat spots” on a baby’s head may alleviate this by changing the position of the baby periodically. Healthy babies will swallow anything they spit up without choking, as long as they have an unobstructed windpipe.

Are pacifiers good for SIDS?

Yes. A 2005 study indicated that pacifier use is associated with a 90 percent reduction in the risk of suffocation. Though SIDS is unexplained, suffocation is easily missed in a postmortem investigation.

Are you sure sleeping on their back with a pacifier doesn’t harm the baby’s development?

A small number of pediatric researchers have voiced concerns about the Back to Sleep initiative and the effects on the newborn’s health. Studies conducted by American and British researchers indicate that there are negligible differences between bottom-sleeping and back-sleeping newborns.

Until more research is conducted, the American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommends back-sleeping.

How can you distinguish between SIDS and child abuse victims?

Because SIDS is only given as a diagnosis when physicians are unsure of the cause of death, it is difficult to determine later if the child died of abuse. However, a number of researchers have indicated that some SIDS cases may be the result of child abuse. Distinguishing between SIDS and child abuse is a matter for the coroner, not for those without medical training.

Are there any recommendations for a crib setup that could help prevent SIDS?

When setting up the crib, the sleeping area should be as bare as possible, with no soft bedding that the baby can choke on. Bumper pads should not be used on the sides of the cribs, as they reduce the flow of oxygenated air to the baby. If the weather is especially cold, the baby should be covered with a sleep sack – a small bag with holes for the baby’s arms and head – to maintain body warmth.

What can you do during pregnancy to help prevent SIDS?

Quitting smoking and stopping alcohol consumption is good advice for any pregnancy, and will improve overall fetal health. Visits to the obstetrician, good nutrition and proper vitamins, and all the precautions taken during a normal pregnancy are advisable.

As always, healthy mothers having a healthy pregnancy stand the best chance of avoiding SIDS.

Does it matter if you are a pregnant teen versus a pregnant adult?

Yes, babies born to teen mothers are at a greater risk for SIDS. The risk of SIDS decreases the older the mother is.

Should I buy a breathing monitor?

Breathing monitors have been shown to be ineffective against SIDS, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institutes for Health recommend against them.

If you have questions about using monitors for other conditions, consult your pediatrician.

Are there any state laws relating to SIDS?

Yes. Every state has a different set of rules that determines when and how a baby may be diagnosed with SIDS. Most state definitions vary according to the age at which a diagnosis of SIDS may be declared. Many state laws deal with notifying the coroner after discovery, notifying next of kin about forwarding information to grief and counseling services, or requiring hospitals to provide information on SIDS free of charge to expecting mothers.

What can you say to the parents of a SIDS victim?

There is, unfortunately, very little you can say to a parent whose child is the victim of SIDS. The loss of a child is a traumatic event in a parent’s life, especially after a long pregnancy. During this time, it is generally best to leave counseling up to the professionals. A list of grief resources can be found through the, but a thorough search of care providers in your area should be conducted to find a grief counselor right for the circumstances.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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