Overview of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

There is nothing more tragic than the loss of a child. It can somehow be even more painful if there is no apparent reason or cause of death. Every year Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) kills approximately 1,500 babies in the United States.

Even though we have created safety campaigns over the last 30 years, such as the Back to Sleep and Safe to Sleep Campaigns, thousands of babies are still being lost.

Even though we cannot stop all the senseless deaths, there are certain methods parents can use to try to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS. Many risk factors keep showing up as possible causes of SIDS, so parents and guardians should do their best to avoid these situations.

The main area where pediatricians tend to focus on with preventing SIDS is to look at the sleeping environment of your baby.


Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) is when a baby less than a year old dies unexpectedly and suddenly. The causes of these deaths can vary a lot – accidental suffocation, cardiac disorders, and others. SIDS does fall into the category of SUID.

The difference is that no cause can be found for how the baby was lost with SIDS. SIDS is especially frustrating for doctors and parents because without finding the cause of death, it is tough to prevent future deaths from happening.

More about SIDS

Many scientists believe that most, if not all, victims of SIDS had a pre-existing condition that had not been diagnosed yet, that made them more vulnerable to the syndrome. SIDS is the leading cause of death for babies aged one month to one-year-old.

Risk Factors for SIDS

 While, again, there is no cure and no way to directly prevent SIDS, it seems that certain risk factors are common among victims. Some factors include sleeping on the side, soft bedding, mothers who smoke while pregnant (or after), and overheating.

Additional factors are when the mother is young (under 20 years old) and the baby is light in weight at birth. The rate of SIDS is higher among boys, as well as African-American children.

The problem is that even if you minimize all of the risk factors that you can, there still is a possibility of SIDS affecting your child. Doctors are getting more and more information every year, and by studying the risk factors that seem to be shared, they can start to get closer to a cure.

Infant Sleep Position

One of the many commonalities in victims of SIDS was the sleep position of the baby. Pediatricians, and national campaigns that spread awareness about SIDS recommend that your baby sleeps on his or her back.

In the 1990s, a study found that the more parents placed their babies on their back to sleep, the rate of SIDS decreased by 40%.

The Safe Sleep Campaign

In 2012, the Safe to Sleep Campaign expanded on safe sleeping guidelines.

Now, most parents were being told by pediatricians and hospital staff to place their babies on their backs to sleep. Now, though, parents were also given many more sleep-time suggestions to help avoid the tragedy of SIDS.

These recommendations include having a designated spot for the baby to sleep, alone (such as in a crib – not with the parents in an adult bed).

Additionally, blankets and quilts, and other soft bedding should not be placed in the bed with or near the baby.

The campaign also highly recommends breastfeeding, if possible, and making sure to supply a healthy environment to the baby. This environment includes eliminating overheating, as well as making sure that parents do not expose their babies to cigarette smoke, or be under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

If parents are intoxicated, they may forget simple steps to help prevent SIDS.

What Infants Are at Greater Risk?

American Indian and African-American children are twice as susceptible to SIDS compared to other races. One study found that one possible cause for this was that more African-American infants were sleeping on their stomachs, compared to other babies.

The suggested solution suggested was simple. Make sure more information is dispersed in all communities! Knowledge of how to prevent SIDS should be available for everyone.

Babies should always be placed on their backs, even if just for a “quick nap.”

Smoke Exposure

Studies suggest that if a mother smokes while pregnant, the risk of an infant having SIDS goes up exponentially. Scarily, secondhand smoke can be just as dangerous to a baby as if the mother is smoking while pregnant.

Several studies have linked smoking to respiratory problems in the baby and the increased risk of SIDS. This includes exposure through the pregnant mother or by environmental secondhand smoke.


In many cases, overheating seems to have been a factor in victims of SIDS. However, this area is a lot less clear than say, smoking. Many victims of SIDS were under blankets or quilts and may have become too hot.

A direct connection is when the baby’s environment was too warm, and they were sleeping in the prone position. More infants succumb to SIDS in the winter. As a result, people believed for a long time that overheating (trying to keep the baby nice and warm in a cold house) was the culprit.

However, some scientists and doctors suggest that illnesses like the flu and the common colds are also present in the winter. These conditions might also contribute to SIDS.

Infant Bedding

Another major factor for SIDS is infant bedding. Soft bedding, blankets, stuffed animals, and bumper pads should be out of the baby’s sleeping area. Soft bedding can increase the risk of SIDS by five times!

Knowledge is Power

SIDS is one of, if not the most, terrifying things a new parent can worry about. Knowing the risk factors and ways to help minimize those factors, can prevent many of these cases in the future.