Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because the infants often die in their cribs.

Although the cause is unknown, it appears that SIDS may be associated with abnormalities in the portion of an infant's brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep.

Researchers have discovered some factors that may put babies at extra risk. They've also identified some measures you can take to help protect your child from SIDS. Perhaps the most important measure is placing your baby on his or her back to sleep.

Causes Risk factors Prevention

A combination of physical and sleep environmental factors can make an infant more vulnerable to SIDS. These factors may vary from child to child.

Physical factors

Physical factors associated with SIDS include:

  • Brain abnormalities. Some infants are born with problems that make them more likely to die of SIDS. In many of these babies, the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep doesn't work properly.
  • Low birth weight. 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.
  • Respiratory infection.  Many infants who died of SIDS had recently had a cold, which may contribute to breathing problems.

Sleep environmental factors

The items in a baby's crib and his or her sleeping position can combine with a baby's physical problems to increase the risk of SIDS. Examples include:

  • Sleeping on the stomach or side. Babies who are placed on their stomachs or sides to sleep may have more difficulty breathing than those placed on their backs.
  • Sleeping on a soft surface. Lying face down on a fluffy comforter or a waterbed can block an infant's airway. Draping a blanket over a baby's head also is risky.
  • Sleeping with parents. 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 — partly because there are more soft surfaces to impair breathing.

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