Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

What is a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexplained death of a baby while sleeping. It is sometimes called crib death, since SIDS babies usually die in their cribs. No one understands what causes the condition, although research suggests it could be associated with brain abnormalities in the areas that control awakening from sleep and breathing.

It appears that boys are more prone to SIDS than girls, as are those from the black, Alaska Native, and American Indian races. The condition most often strikes in the first few months of an infant’s life.

What are the Symptoms of a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

SIDS is not predictable, and neither is it preventable. Consequently, there are no definable symptoms that could indicate a baby is about to die in his sleep. However, certain physical and environmental elements could increase a child’s risk:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Family history of SIDS
  • Premature birth and low birth weight
  • Mother is younger than 20
  • Mother uses drugs, alcohol, or smokes
  • Mother did not have adequate prenatal care
  • Baby had a recent respiratory infection
  • Co-sleeping with parents
  • Sleeping on their sides or stomach
  • Sleeping on a soft surface

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Causes

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is caused by a combination of sleep and environmental factors. Some of these factors include sleeping on the stomach or side, sleeping on soft surfaces, sharing a bed with parents and getting too warm at night. Other things that may cause SIDS are low birth weight, respiratory infections, or brain defects. Babies who sleep on their stomach risk having more trouble breathing, while softer surfaces, like Mommy and Daddy’s bed, can potentially block the airway.

Risk factors for SIDS include age, gender, secondhand smoke, race, and being born prematurely. A mother’s risk factors might include being younger than 20, using drugs or alcohol, smoking cigarettes and/or having poor prenatal care. Boys are more likely to die of SIDS than girls. Non-Caucasian babies are at a higher risk for SIDS than Caucasian babies. Infants between two and four months are the most likely to have SIDS. Low birth weight coupled with premature birth can also cause SIDS.

How is a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Treated?

The unexpected and abrupt nature of SIDS does not provide much of an opportunity for treatment. However, there are ways to help reduce the risk of a child’s death:

  • Use a pacifier
  • Swaddle the child
  • Breastfeed as long as possible
  • Put baby to sleep on her back
  • No toys or blankets in the crib for the first year
  • Do not smoke around the baby
  • Put a firm mattress in the crib
  • Move the crib to the parents’ room
  • Avoid co-sleeping and side-sleeping
  • Use a co-sleeping crib that attaches to the bed
  • Dress baby in a sleep sack instead of overdressing
  • Keep immunizations up to date
  • Avoid products with claims of reducing SIDS

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Prevention

SIDS is not completely preventable, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk. Some ways you can do this include putting your baby to sleep on his or her back as opposed to on the stomach or side, keeping your baby cool at all times (adding or removing layers as necessary), keeping the crib free of pillows, thick blankets or padding, and having your baby sleep in the room with you (but not in the bed with you). Giving your baby a pacifier can also reduce the risk of SIDS. It’s best to use one without a strap attached.

Refrain from using a swing, carrier or car seat as your baby’s sleep area. Make sure to keep all doctors’ appointments and get your child their proper immunizations. Keep them as healthy as possible.

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Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
November 30, 2017