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What is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the somewhat unexplained reason a baby under the age of 1 dies while sleeping.
When a baby dies unexpectedly, the police and a medical examiner investigate the death. They look at where the death occurred, do an autopsy on the baby, and look at the baby’s health history.
What are the symptoms of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?
Part of the frustration of SIDS is that there are no warning signs or symptoms. All a parent or caregiver can do is take preventive steps to reduce the chance of SIDS (see “prevention” section).
What causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?
SIDS is believed to be related to certain sleeping hazards that can cause the baby to stop breathing. These include:
- Soft bedding covering the baby’s face
- A baby getting wedged or trapped between a mattress and something else in the bed or crib
- An adult accidentally rolling on top of the baby while sharing a bed
- When the baby is lying on his or her side or stomach and is unable to roll over or lift its head
Babies born with defects in the part of their brain that controls breathing and waking from sleep are more likely to die of SIDS. Respiratory infections may also increase a baby’s likeliness of dying from SIDS.
According to the Safe to Sleep® Campaign, SIDS is not contagious. It is not caused by choking or vomiting, and it is not tied to child abuse or the lack of immunizations. It is not the same as or caused by suffocation.
How is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) diagnosed?
An infant is diagnosed as having died of SIDS after all other causes have been excluded. It is listed as a cause of death after an autopsy. Next, professionals will conduct interviews with parents or caregivers and check the baby’s medical records. They will also examine the spot where the baby died, usually a crib or a bed.
Can sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) be prevented or avoided?
There is no sure way to prevent SIDS, but there are ways to reduce your baby’s risks. If you are a parent or caregiver, keep your baby’s sleep space safe by:
- Removing all loose bedding, such as crib bumpers, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, and toys. These items can cause the baby to stop breathing, choke, or strangle them.
- Making sure you have the most recent, baby-friendly crib. It should be designed to keep your baby from falling between the mattress and the side of the crib. It’s also important that your child cannot get his or her head stuck in the bars of the crib. While older, used cribs may be more affordable, look for a newer crib to match your budget and keep your baby safe. Choose a firm crib mattress over a softer one.
- Not allowing your baby to sleep with you, another adult, or another child. You may forget to return a fussy baby to its crib and accidentally roll on top of it. This causes the baby to stop breathing. A baby sleeping in the same room (not bed) as their parents have a lower risk of SIDS.
- Placing your baby on his or her back (not tummy or side) for naps and at night. A baby’s neck and other muscles that allow it to lift its head or roll over are not fully developed. When the baby is “stuck” on his tummy, he cannot lift his or her head to breathe.
- Having your baby sleep in your room but on a separate sleeping surface for at least 6 months, if not their entire first year. Sharing a room with your baby can reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 50%. It allows you to monitor the baby without bringing it into your own bed.
- Keeping the room cool. Some research suggests that when a baby gets overheated, they may slip into a deeper sleep. This may result in a hard time waking up when their body is trying to tell them to breathe.
Aside from monitoring your baby’s sleep space, you should also take the following measures to prevent SIDS:
- Keeping up on your baby’s vaccinations and well-child visits. Research shows that getting your baby’s vaccinations on schedule reduces the threat of SIDS by 50%.
- Breastfeeding your baby and using a pacifier has been shown to reduce the potential for SIDS.
- Keeping your baby away from cigarette or other types of smoke both before and after birth.
- Avoiding alcohol or drug use during pregnancy.
Premature birth or low birth weight may also be associated with SIDS as well as mothers less than 20 years old.
Treatment for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
SIDS cannot be treated since the death happens without warning. Your doctor, however, may be able to help you cope with your loss by recommending sources for grief counseling.
Coping with the loss from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Anyone who has ever experienced the death of a baby is heartbroken, no matter what the reason. If you are struggling with this loss, it’s important to give yourself time to heal and possibly even to seek counseling. Ask your doctor for recommendations for grief and counseling services. It’s important to talk about what you are feeling and how it’s affecting your work, home, and relationships.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Once my child is old enough to roll over, is he or she still at risk for SIDS?
- Should I wake my child up throughout the night when he or she is a newborn?
- Is there a test to determine how well my baby is breathing?
- Can allergies or asthma at a young age cause SIDS?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.