Every new parent’s worst nightmare is SIDS–Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Its such an unpleasant topic to discuss but let’s try and go over a few things which can help to ease parents’ understandable anxiety about this nightmarish situation.  SIDS, also called “crib death,”  occurs when an apparently healthy infant dies suddenly in his or her sleep without some other identifiable cause.  It is uncommon but not rare.  Each year, about 4,000 infants die unexpectedly during sleep time, from SIDS, accidental suffocation, or unknown causes, the leading cause of death in babies 1 month to 1 year of age.  Its peak incidence is from 1-4 months and it is no longer a risk after the first birthday.  There is no known cause and, in fact, there may be multiple factors that lead to SIDS-type deaths.

Some risk factors along with preventive measures:

  • Don’t smoke!! Especially if your infant sleeps in your bed.  Note that bedsharing with your infant may be a risk in and of itself.   Also, smoking during pregnancy increases the risk as well.
  • Babies who sleep on their stomachs are at greater risk.  Each day give your baby some “tummy time” which may promote more mature breathing patterns.  You can get lots of information on the “Back to Sleep” program at
  • Overheating–dress the baby in pajamas appropriate to the room’s temperature.  You can “overbundle’ the baby despite what your grandma says!
  • Prematurity.  So, expectant mothers: please keep your OB appointments and try and follow your obstetrician’s advise as much as possible.
  • Chronically ill infants
  • Sibling of SIDS sufferers or infants that have an “apparent life threatening event (ALTE)” may be at risk
  • Boys are at greater risk than girls. African Americans have a greater risk than white babies who have a greater risk than Latinos or Asians.
  • Avoid having your baby sleep on a soft mattress, pad or sheepskin; avoid heavy blankets, thick pillows and bumper pads.  All of these things increase the risk of SIDS.  Current theory is that these soft, fluffy materials may cause the child to re-breath exhaled carbon dioxide leading to low blood oxygen levels and disruption of the infant’s normal breathing pattern.  Have your child sleep on a firm, flat mattress.  A recent study demonstrated that many parents remain unaware of this important safety measure.  We pediatricians must be much more attentive to educating young parents about this (that’s the point of this blog post!!)

There is no evidence that so called SIDS-prevention devices like monitors or “positioners” that hold a baby in a particular position are of any benfit and they are not recommended by the AAP.  They may be harmful.  There is no evidence that immunizations are associated with any increased risk of SIDS.

Being a parent means always living with some anxiety about your child’s safety and well being.  It never leaves (my mom is 84 and still worries about me!)–its part and parcel with the joy and pride that comes with having your precious child.  Following the above, hopefully, can help young parents keep at least this part of that experience in some perspective.  Please contact me with any questions or comments, and thanks for reading


2 thoughts on “SIDS

  1. To follow up on crib and sleep safety I have recently wondered when I should stop swaddling my son at night. He is almost 15 weeks and just started rolling back to belly during our play time, should I stop swaddling cold turkey so he doesn’t get stuck at night with his arms in the swaddle? Ive been swaddling one arm out but his sleep becomes affected, and he wakes more often. I’d love to have your input on when and how to phase out the swaddle.


  2. Swaddling gives the child a sense of being back in the womb–the tight squeeze. So I don’t think they necessarily need to get that type of reassurance for very long. By 3 monhs or so he or she is starting to bring their hands to their mouths and even reach out towards objects that they see–they need free arms to do that. So I think by then at the latest swaddling becomes more disadantage than advantage for him(her).


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