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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or Crib Death, refers to the unexpected death during sleep of an apparently healthy infant under one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including an autopsy, a death scene investigation, review of the infant’s health status before dying and a family medical history.  Most SIDS cases occur between the ages of two and four months.

  • SIDS is the third-ranking cause of infant death between one month and one year of age. In 2003, 2,162 infants died from SIDS, accounting for 7.7 percent of all deaths among infants.
  • African American and American Indian infants are 2 to 3  times more likely to die from SIDS than White infants.
  • There are many theories as to what actually causes SIDS.  Some health experts believe that a defect in the infant’s breathing control mechanisms which is stressed during common respiratory infections causes an atypical breathing reaction, resulting in death. The theory is that SIDS babies are born with brain abnormalities that make them unable to awaken from sleep when exposed to high carbon dioxide or low oxygen levels.
  • While the cause of SIDS is unknown, many potential risk factors have been identified such as premature birth and/or low birth weight, bed sharing, loose bedding and male sex.  The most important risk factors to be aware of are:
    • maternal smoking both before and after the child’s birth
    • prone sleep position (lying face down), which can cause the baby to breath in too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen (i.e. stale air)
  • Maternal smoking during pregnancy is estimated to double the risk of SIDS. A mother smoking 10 or more cigarettes per day seems to raise the risk of SIDS by 70 percent. One study found that 23.6 percent of singleton SIDS deaths appear to be attributable to prenatal maternal smoking.
  • In 1992, the Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all healthy babies be put to sleep either on their back or side to reduce the risk of death from SIDS. In 1994, the CDC initiated a national “Back to Sleep” education campaign was launched. This campaign has been so successful that the frequency of prone sleeping has decreased from 70 percent in 1994 to 20 percent in 2000.  The SIDS mortality rate also decreased by more than 50 percent in the U.S during that time.