Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is one of the more heart-breaking medical conditions out there. If your family has been affected by this kind of tragedy, you might be feeling confused and wonder what exactly happened.  Read on to learn more about this problem.

What is SIDS?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) refers to the sudden death of an infant in their first year of life who was otherwise healthy and had no apparent illness or other problems.  Because it so often happens when a baby is asleep, SIDS has also been called “crib death” in the past.

What Causes SIDS?

Perhaps one of the questions families ask most often about SIDS is “Why did this happen?”

The answer is complicated – and many researchers believe that there is still a lot about SIDS that science has not discovered yet, meaning we do not have all the answers. But here’s what we do know:

  • Physical causes. There are some physical reasons why SIDS can happen. Some doctors believe that some babies are born with problems with the parts of the brain that control breathing and waking up.  If these are not properly controlled, SIDS is more likely to happen.  It has also been found that many babies who die of SIDS were in the process of getting over a cold or other respiratory infection which many have interfered with their ability to breathe.  Babies who were born prematurely (before they were due) are also at a higher risk.
  • Environmental Reasons. There are also environmental reasons for this tragedy. Babies who sleep on their sides or on their stomachs, who sleep with their parents or other siblings in the same bed or who sleep on soft surfaces (like soft blankets or pillows) are more likely to die of SIDS as well.

Who is at Risk for SIDS?

There are risk factors for SIDS for both the mother and the baby.  The good news is that many of these risk factors can be controlled or modified to reduce the risk.

Moms are more likely to have a baby die of SIDS if:

  • They are a teenage mother, especially if they have more than one child before the age of 20.
  • They smoke while pregnant or around the baby after it is born.
  • They use alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • They do not go to the doctor for check-up while they are pregnant (this is called “prenatal care”)

Babies are more likely to die of SIDS if:

  • They are boys
  • They are between 2-3 months of age (this is the most common age for SIDS to occur)
  • They have a family history of SIDS (in other words, if other people in the family have died from it)
  • They are of African, Native America or Native Alaskan descent
  • They are exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • They were born prematurely.

Can SIDS be Prevented?

SIDS can be an upsetting thing to think or talk about – but learning about this condition is also very important so that families can learn ways to help prevent this from happening in the first place.  There are actually lots of ways to reduce the risk of SIDS, including:

  • Only putting a baby to sleep on his back in a crib with a firm mattress and nothing else in it (no soft blankets, toys, bumpers, etc.) and training caregivers/babysitters to do the same.
  • Only allowing a baby to be on their stomachs while you are in the room with them to watch them closely.
  • Never letting a baby sleep with parents or other babies or children but in their own separate crib.
  • Breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months, then using a combination of breastmilk and solid food until the baby is at least 1 year of age.
  • Using a pacifier. For unknown reasons, using pacifiers appears to reduce the risk of SIDS

Even before birth, moms who get good prenatal care, refrain from smoking or using alcohol or drugs also decrease their baby’s chance of SIDS.

The good news is that, since the education program Back to Sleep (which started in the 1990s) that taught parents to only lie their children down to sleep on their backs, the number of SIDS cases in the United States has dropped by 57%!

SIDS is a terrible tragedy for any family to go through and can be difficult for families to cope with. However, the good news is that there are lots of simple ways to prevent it from happening to begin with.