S.I.D.S.

Reducing the Risk

A lack of answers is part of what makes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) so frightening. SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants 1 month to 1 year old, and claims the lives of about 2,500 each year in the United States. It remains unpredictable despite years of research.

Even so, the risk of SIDS can be greatly reduced. First and foremost, infants younger than 1 year old should be placed on their backs to sleep — never face-down on their stomachs.

Searching for Answers

As the name implies, SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant who is younger than 1 year old. It’s a frightening prospect because it can strike without warning, usually in seemingly healthy babies. Most SIDS deaths are associated with sleep (hence the common reference to “crib death”) and infants who die of SIDS show no signs of suffering.

While most conditions or diseases usually are diagnosed by the presence of specific symptoms, most SIDS diagnoses come only after all other possible causes of death have been ruled out through a review of the infant’s medical history, sleeping environment, and autopsy. This review helps distinguish true SIDS deaths from those resulting from accidents, abuse, and previously undiagnosed conditions, such as cardiac or metabolic disorders.

When considering which babies could be most at risk, no single risk factor is likely to be sufficient to cause a SIDS death. Rather, several risk factors combined may contribute to cause an at-risk infant to die of SIDS.

Most deaths due to SIDS occur between 2 and 4 months of age, and incidence increases during cold weather. African-American infants are twice as likely and Native American infants are about three times more likely to die of SIDS than caucasian infants. More boys than girls fall victim to SIDS.

Other potential risk factors include:

  • smoking, drinking, or drug use during pregnancy
  • poor prenatal care
  • prematurity or low birth weight
  • mothers younger than 20
  • tobacco smoke exposure following birth
  • overheating from excessive sleepwear and bedding
  • stomach sleeping