Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant less than 1 year of age from an unknown cause. SIDS is unpredictable and affects seemingly healthy babies. SIDS is sometimes called crib death. This is because the death may happen when the baby is sleeping in a crib. SIDS is one of the leading causes of death in babies from ages 1 month to 1 year. It happens most often between 2 and 4 months old. SIDS and other types of sleep-related infant deaths have similar risk factors.
Although the cause is unknown, it appears that SIDS might be associated with defects in the portion of an infant's brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep. Researchers have identified measures you can take to help protect your child from SIDS. Perhaps the most important is placing your baby on his or her back to sleep.
SIDS in babies happens in families of all social, economic and ethnic groups. SIDS is not contagious, predictable or preventable. SIDS is sudden and silent, occurring most often during sleep, with no signs of suffering.
Risk Factors related to SIDS
SIDS in babies is a mysterious syndrome as the cause cannot be determined. But certain risk factors do exist. Some babies are more at risk than others. SIDS is more likely to affect a baby who is between 1 and 4 months old, it is more common in boys than girls, and most deaths occur during the fall, winter and early spring months. Factors that may place a baby at higher risk of dying from SIDS include:
- babies who sleep on their stomach or their side rather than their back
- overheating while sleeping
- too soft a sleeping surface, with fluffy blankets or toys
- mothers who smoke during pregnancy
- exposure to passive smoke from smoking by mothers, fathers and others in the household
- mothers who are younger than 20 years old at the time of their first pregnancy
- babies born to mothers who had little, late or no prenatal care
- premature or low birth weight babies
- having a sibling who died of SIDS
Causes of SIDS
Doctors are not sure, but they have a few ideas. Some babies have a gene or a change to their genes that causes certain health problems that can lead to SIDS. Other babies are born with problems in the part of their brain that controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and waking from sleep.
Right now, there’s no way to test for these issues. Studies have shown that some babies who die from SIDS have the following:
- A hidden health problem, like brain defects. Some babies have problems with the part of the brain that helps control breathing and waking during sleep. Babies born with problems in other parts of the brain or body may also be more likely to die from SIDS.
- Being in the first 6 months of life
- Stress from something like a poor sleep position, secondhand smoke, or a respiratory infection
- Some genes and the environment may work together to increase the risk for SIDS in babies.
- Some studies found a link between heart function and SIDS.
- Some babies who die from SIDS have respiratory infections before death. SIDS in babies happens more often during the colder months, when respiratory illnesses are more common.
- Premature birth or being part of a multiple birth increases the likelihood that a baby's brain hasn't matured completely, so he or she has less control over such automatic processes as breathing and heart rate.
- Babies placed in these positions to sleep might have more difficulty breathing than those placed on their backs.
- Lying face down on a fluffy comforter, a soft mattress or a waterbed can block an infant's airway.
- While the risk of SIDS is lowered if an infant sleeps in the same room as his or her parents, the risk increases if the baby sleeps in the same bed with parents, siblings or pets.
- Being too warm while sleeping can increase a baby's risk of SIDS.
Symptoms of SIDS
There are no symptoms or warning signs of SIDS in babies that can be used to prevent it.
How SIDS is diagnosed?
The diagnosis of SIDS is made when the cause of death is unexplained after a full investigation. An investigation includes:
- Examining the body after death
- Examining where the death took place
- Reviewing the baby’s symptoms or illnesses before death
- Any other related health history
Treatment for SIDS
There's no treatment for sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. But there are ways to help your baby sleep safely. For the first year, always place your baby on his or her back to sleep. Use a firm mattress and avoid fluffy pads and blankets. Remove all toys and stuffed animals from the crib, and try using a pacifier. Don't cover a baby's head, and make sure your baby doesn't get too hot. Your baby can sleep in your room, but not in your bed. Breast feeding for at least six months lowers the risk of SIDS. Vaccine shots to protect your baby from diseases may also help prevent SIDS.
Preventive Measures for SIDS
There is no way to tell which babies will die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But known risk factors for SIDS and other sleep-related deaths can be controlled.
- Early and regular prenatal care can help reduce the risk for SIDS. You should also follow a healthy diet and not smoke or use drugs or alcohol while you are pregnant. These things may reduce the chance of having a premature or low-birth-weight baby. Premature or low-birth-weight babies are at higher risk for SIDS.
- Babies should be placed on their back for all sleeping until they are 1 year old. Don't lay your baby down on his or her side or belly for sleep or naps.
- Putting your baby in other positions helps your baby grow stronger. It also helps prevent your baby from having a misshaped head. When your baby is awake, hold your baby. Or give your baby time on his or her tummy as long as there is an adult watching. Try not to let your baby sit in a seat or swing for long periods of time.
- Your baby should sleep on a firm mattress or other firm surface covered by a fitted sheet. Don’t use fluffy blankets or comforters. Don’t let your baby sleep on a waterbed, sofa, sheepskin, pillow, or other soft material. Don’t put soft toys, pillows, or bumper pads in the crib while your baby is younger than 1 year old.
- Keep your baby warm but not too warm. The temperature in your baby’s room should feel comfortable to you. Avoid over bundling, overdressing, or covering an infant's face or head.
- Pediatrics recommends that infants sleep close to the parent's bed, but in a separate crib or bassinet for infants. This is recommended ideally for the baby's first year. But you should do this at least for the first 6 months.
- Don't put your baby to sleep in a bed with other children. Don’t put your baby to sleep on a sofa, either alone or with another person. Don't share your bed with your baby, especially if you are using alcohol or other drugs. You can bring your baby to your bed for feedings and comforting. But return your baby to the crib for sleep. Bed sharing is also not recommended for twins or other multiples.
- The risk of SIDS is higher for babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. Don’t smoke when you are pregnant and don’t let anyone smoke around your baby. Babies and young children exposed to smoke have more colds and other diseases. They also have a higher risk for SIDS.
- If your newborn baby seems sick, call your baby’s healthcare provider. Take your baby in for regular well-baby checkups and routine shots. Some studies show that fully vaccinating your child lowers the risk for SIDS.
- Give your baby only your own milk for at least 6 months. This means no water, sugar water, or formula, unless your baby’s healthcare provider tells you to do so. This reduces the risk for SIDS and many other health problems.
- You may give your baby a pacifier during routine sleep and nap time once breastfeeding is well established. This is often after the first few weeks. But don’t hang pacifiers around your baby's neck. Don’t attach pacifiers to your baby’s clothing, stuffed toys, or other objects.
- Don't use wedges, positioners, or special mattresses to help decrease the risk for SIDS and sleep-related infant death. These devices have not been shown to prevent SIDS. In rare cases, they have resulted in infant death. Cardiorespiratory monitors sold for home use are also not helpful in preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Be sure there are no hanging cords, wires, or window curtains nearby. This reduces the risk for strangulation.
- It's best to avoid any product that says it can lower your baby's risk of SIDS, because they haven't been proven safe or effective. Cardiac monitors and electronic respirators also haven't been proven to reduce SIDS risk, so avoid these, too.
- Avoid honey because honey can lead to botulism in very young children, never give honey to a child under 1 year old. Botulism and the bacteria that cause it may be linked to SIDS.
Remember, your baby's health care provider is always available to answer any questions you have about SIDS, SIDS prevention, and keeping your baby warm, happy and safe.