Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a mysterious syndrome in which an unexpected death occurs to an infant who is less than a year old. Learn what it is and how it can be prevented.

Last Updated: 23 October 2020

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
What is SIDS?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant who is less than 12 months of age. Since death usually occurs during sleep, it is also called crib death or cot death. It is the leading cause of death (of infants less than one year) in the United States and approximately 1600 infants’ die of SIDS each year. The rate of SIDS is 0.1 deaths per 100,000 live births in India. The causes for SIDS are partially explored and there are some measures that can be taken to prevent it.

Causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

The causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) can be categorized into physical and sleep environmental factors.

Physical factors:

1. Defects in the brain: Some babies may be born with defects in the brain. In these infants, a segment of the brain that is responsible for breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and arousal from sleep may not be matured enough to function appropriately. Failure to arousal from sleep refers to the infant’s inability to respond to physiological stimuli.

2. Respiratory infection: Infants who had breathing problems because of cold may be susceptible to SIDS.  

3. Preterm babies: Premature babies or babies who are part of multiple births may have underdeveloped brain which in turn increases the likelihood of SIDS.

Sleep environmental factors

The sleeping position of the baby along with other physical problems may be a causative factor for SIDS.

1. Sleeping on the stomach: Babies sleeping in this position may face breathing difficulties than babies placed on their backs. When babies sleep face down, they may re-breathe exhaled carbon dioxide. Under normal circumstances, rising carbon dioxide levels activate nerve cells in the brain, which then stimulate the brain's respiratory and arousal centers. The baby then wakes up, turns his head and breathes faster to get more oxygen. But in cases of SIDS, babies may fail to wake up.

2. Hyperthermia (increased temperature): During sleep, usage of excessive coverings and increased air temperature leads to increased metabolic rate and loss of breathing control in SIDS babies.

3. Blankets, comforters, waterbeds and soft mattresses, stuffed or plush toys can impair an infant’s airway.

Who does it affect?

Occurrence of SIDS is unpredictable. But some babies have higher chances of getting SIDS. The probability factors are listed below:

Age: Though SIDS affects an infant during the first year of life, it is more common during second and fourth months of life.

Sex: Boys are slightly more affected than girl child. Most deaths occur during the fall, winter and early spring months.

Race: SIDS is common among African-Americans, Native Americans, and Alaska natives. 

Family history: If a baby’s sibling or cousin died of SIDS, the child may be more susceptible to develop SIDS.

Premature babies: Premature and low birth weight babies have a higher chance of SIDS.

Exposure to passive smoke: Babies exposed to passive smoke from parents, family members or other household have double the risk for developing SIDS.

Mother’s health: SIDS is more likely to happen to a baby whose mother:

·         Is less than 20 years of age

·         Had poor prenatal care

·         Smoking, drug and alcohol consumption during pregnancy or during a baby’s first year of life


Diagnosis of SIDS

SIDS is usually referred to as “diagnosis of exclusion” since it is diagnosed after ruling out all the other causes of death like suffocation, infection and illness. Doctors gather all the information from parents, healthcare providers and forensic experts and if they are unable to identify the exact cause of death, they categorize the death as SIDS.

Prevention of SIDS

While the exact cause of SIDS is not known well, here are some preventive measures that can be taken.

1. Stay healthy during pregnancy and go for routine prenatal visits

2. Avoid smoking and alcohol

3. Make sure your baby is in a cool and comfortable room. Leave her face uncovered.

4. Use a pacifier, follow routine immunizations and breastfeed your baby.

5. Until your child learns to roll over, make sure that she sleeps at her back.

6. Choose a firm and flat surface for her bed. Keep fluffy blankets and stuffed animals out of his cot.

7. Your baby should sleep in your room, in a specially designed place for infants such as a crib or bassinet.



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