Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

What is SIDS?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or crib death is defined as the sudden and unexpected death of an infant or young child, usually during sleep. SIDS is responsible for more than 50% deaths of infants between 2 weeks and 1 year of age. An examination of the death scene, postmortem exam, and clinical history fail to reveal a cause of this unexplained phenomenon. SIDS affects 1 out of 2000 babies in the United States. Though it can affect any baby, it is more commonly seen in baby boys, in infants with a family history of SIDS, and in Native American and African American infants. Most cases of SIDS occur between the second and fourth months of life.

What causes SIDS?

The exact cause of SIDS is unknown, however, some factors may increase an infant’s vulnerability to SIDS. Such factors may be grouped as physical factors and environmental factors. Physical factors include medical or physical conditions present in an infant, which increase infant’s risk of developing SIDS. Environmental factors mostly include sleep settings and surroundings that can affect an infant’s sleep. Theories surrounding stressful home surroundings and allergies have not been conclusively proven to play a role in SIDS.

What are the risk factors for SIDS?

The chances of SIDS are greater when one or more of the following risk factors are present.

Physical factors

  • Congenital (present from birth) brain abnormalities in the areas of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep
  • Heart problems leading to irregular heartbeats
  • Inability to detect high carbon dioxide levels in the blood
  • Low birth weight, premature birth, or multiple birth, increasing the chances of incomplete formation of brain areas that control breathing and heart rate
  • Respiratory infection or cold, leading to breathing problems
  • Maternal factors (maternal age less than 20 years, maternal drug use or smoking during pregnancy)
  • Sleep apnea (sleep disorder characterized by abnormally low breathing or abnormal gaps in breathing, during sleep) is not linked to SIDS.

Environmental factors

  • Too many items (like toys or loose bedding) in the crib
  • Sleeping on the stomach or side thereby increasing difficulty breathing
  • Sleeping in an old crib or on a soft bedding or waterbed mattresses, blocking an infant’s airway
  • Draped blanket over baby’s head, increasing the risks of suffocation
  • Parents or caregiver sleeping in the other room
  • Parents or caregiver sleeping in the same bed
  • Overheated or very cold environment
  • Smoking in the home

How is SIDS prevented?

There is no definite way to prevent SIDS but the following measures may reduce the risk of SIDS:

  • Placing infants on their back during sleep.
  • Side sleeping only in presence of some medical conditions.
  • Preventing overheating (by removing excessive clothing, blankets).
  • Regulating the room temperature.
  •  Avoiding excessive wrapping of the infant.
  • Avoiding covering the baby’s head.
  • Removing soft bedding (pillows, fluffy toys, stuffed animals, and comforters) from the crib.
  • Avoiding smoking during pregnancy.
  • Avoiding exposure of infants to smoke
  • Avoiding sleeping with parents or caregivers in the same bed to prevent accidental rolling over on the infant.
  • Encouraging breastfeeding to help prevent infections.

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