Q&A: Preventing SIDS

Q: How can I prevent SIDS in my baby?

A: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year old. SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year old. Most SIDS cases happen in babies between 2-4 months old. Generally SIDS occurs without warning in a baby who seems healthy.

Risk Factors

Because most cases happen when a baby is sleeping, SIDS is sometimes called “crib death.” Cribs do not cause SIDS, but other sleep issues can increase your baby’s risks:

• Sleep position: Babies placed to sleep on their tummies or sides are at higher risk of SIDS than babies placed on their backs. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) started the “Back to Sleep” campaign in the 1990s, SIDS cases in the U.S. have dropped by more than 50 percent.

• Smoking: Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are three times more likely to have a SIDS baby. Being around people who smoke doubles an infant’s risks for SIDS. 

• Bedding: Sleeping on pillows, soft surfaces and soft bedding are linked to a higher SIDS risk.

The cause of SIDS is unknown. Most SIDS deaths are associated with sleep, and there are more cases during cold weather. While African-American and Native-American infants are more likely to die of SIDS than other infants, this is thought to be more related to lifestyle and environment than to any genetic predisposition. . More boys than girls experience SIDS.  Other situations where an infant may be at increased risk for SIDS are:  premature infant, twin sibling of a SIDS victim, an infant that has experienced an acute life threatening event and an infant with chronic lung disease requiring oxygen when discharged to home.

Other potential risks include:

• Drinking or drug use during pregnancy

• Poor prenatal care

• Premature birth or low birthweight

• Mothers less than 20 years old

• Overheating of the baby during sleep

Reducing the Risk of SIDS

You can help lower your baby’s risk of SIDS by doing the following:

• Always place your baby on his/her back to sleep every time. This is the number one way to reduce the risk of SIDS. Babies who usually sleep on their backs but are sometimes placed on their tummies are at a very high risk. It’s important for babies to sleep on their backs every time – both for naps and for nighttime sleep.

• Always place your baby on a firm sleep surface. Never place your baby on a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, or other very soft surface.

• Get rid of soft objects and loose bedding. Never place pillows, comforters, quilts, or other soft/plush items near, on top of, or under your baby.

• Avoid overheating. Dress your baby in light sleep clothes. Keep the room comfortable for adult wearing light clothes. The baby should not feel hot to your touch.

• Breastfeed your baby.  Full term infants who are breastfed have a 36% reduction in the risk for SIDS when compared to infants that are formula fed.

• Give your baby a clean, dry pacifier at sleep time. Pacifiers at sleep time are linked with a lower risk of SIDS. If your baby rejects the pacifier, don’t force it. If you are breastfeeding, don’t use a pacifier until after the baby is 1 month old.

• Don’t expose your baby to secondhand smoke.

• Keep the baby’s crib/bassinet in the room where you sleep. This has been linked with a lower risk of SIDS.


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