What Is SIDS?

What is SIDS?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant less than one year old that is unexplained after a complete investigation. Because SIDS happens while a baby is asleep, it is commonly known as crib death. p

Which babies die of SIDS?

SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. Most SIDS deaths happen when a baby is between 1 and 4 months of age.

African American children are two to three times more likely than white babies to die of SIDS, and Native American babies are about three times more susceptible.

More boys are SIDS victims than girls.

A twin is more likely to die of SIDS than a baby without a twin.

Babies who sleep on their tummies are more likely to die of SIDS than those who sleep on their backs.

Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are three times more likely to have a SIDS baby.

Exposure to second hand smoke doubles a baby's risk.

Mothers who are less than 20 years old at the time of their first pregnancy put the baby at higher risk.

Babies born to mothers who had no prenatal care or began prenatal care late in the pregnancy are at higher risk.

Premature or low birth weight babies are at greater risk of SIDS than average weight babies.

What causes SIDS?

Some doctors believe that the babies are born with brain defects. Studies of SIDS victims show that many have defects in the part of the brain that controls breathing and waking during sleep.

Babies born with defects in other parts of the brain or body may also have a higher rate of SIDS deaths. These defects may be from exposure to a toxic substance before birth, or lack of things such as enough oxygen before birth. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy can reduce the amount of oxygen the unborn baby receives.

Events that occur after birth such as lack of oxygen, or excessive carbon dioxide intake may add to the problem. For example, many babies lack oxygen and have high levels of carbon dioxide when they have respiratory infections. The infections make breathing difficult. They can breathe in exhaled air trapped in bedding while they sleep on their stomachs. Normally, infants sense such problems, and they wake from sleep and cry. A baby with a brain defect might not be able to do this. This may explain why babies who sleep on their stomachs are more likely to die of SIDS, and why a number of SIDS babies have had respiratory infections before their deaths. Infections may also explain why more SIDS cases occur during the colder months of the year, when infections are more common.

What Might Help Lower the Risk of SIDS?

There is no way of predicting which newborns will die of SIDS, but there are some things parents can do to lower the risk.

No smoking or drug or alcohol use by the mother

Frequent medical check-ups beginning early in pregnancy and good eating habits during the pregnancy.

The check-ups and good eating habits may also reduce the chance of having a premature or low birth weight baby, which also increases the risk for SIDS.

Once the baby is born, parents should keep the baby in a smoke-free environment.

Babies should sleep on their backs, not their stomachs. Studies have shown that placing babies on their backs to sleep has reduced the number of SIDS cases by as much as one half in countries where infants had traditionally slept on their stomachs. Although babies placed on their sides to sleep have a lower risk of SIDS than those placed on their stomachs, the back sleep position is the best for infants from 1 month to 1 year. Babies positioned on their sides to sleep should be placed with their lower arm forward to help prevent them from rolling onto their stomachs.

Many parents place babies on their stomachs to sleep because they think it prevents them from choking on spit-up or vomit during sleep. But studies in countries where there has been a switch from babies sleeping mostly on their stomachs to sleeping mainly on their backs have not found any evidence of increased risk of choking or other problems.

Sometimes doctors may recommend that babies be on their stomachs to sleep if they have disorders, which may cause them to choke or have breathing problems while on their backs. If a parent is unsure about the best sleep position for their baby, it is always a good idea to talk to the doctor.

Tummy time while the infant is awake and being watched is good. Awake time on the stomach may help prevent flat spots on the back of the baby's head. Such spots are almost always temporary and disappear soon after the baby begins to sit up.

Parents should make sure their baby sleeps on a firm mattress. Avoid using fluffy blankets, pillows, sheepskins, or comforters under the baby. Infants should not be placed to sleep on a waterbed or with soft stuffed toys.

If the mother and baby share a bed, it may reduce the risk of SIDS, and have some other benefits. In some cases it may increase the risk of SIDS, though. If mothers choose to sleep in the same beds with their babies, avoid using soft sleep surfaces. Quilts, blankets, pillows, comforters, or other similar soft materials should not be placed under the baby. The mother should not smoke or use substances such as alcohol or drugs. Adult beds are not designed to meet safety standards for infants as cribs are. Adult beds may have a risk of accidental entrapment and suffocation. The baby may also roll out of bed.

Babies should be kept warm, but they should not get too warm. An overheated baby is more likely to go into a deep sleep from which it is difficult to wake him. The temperature in the nursery should feel comfortable to an adult and the baby should not be overdressed.

There is some evidence that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS. A few studies have found SIDS to be less common in infants who have been breastfed. This may be because motherís milk provides protection from some infections that can trigger SIDS.

Parents should take their babies for regular check-ups and immunizations. Babies who have the scheduled immunizations are less likely to die of SIDS.

If an infant ever stops breathing and turns blue or limp, the baby should see a doctor.

Medium chain acylCoA dehydrogenase deficiency: If there is a family history of this disorder or childhood death of unknown cause, a blood test of the parents can determine if they are carriers of this disorder. If one or both parents is found to be a carrier, the baby can be tested soon after birth. The test does not tell whether the baby will die of SIDS, but it does let the parents know if SIDS may be more probable for their child.

The SIDS Alliance has greatly reduced the incidence of SIDS by promoting the Back-To-Sleep Campaign. When babies sleep on their backs, fewer die of SIDS.