Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

1 What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as the name suggests is a condition in which an apparently healthy infant dies without an explainable cause, while in sleep.

It is also called crib death as most deaths occur in the cribs. While any cause for death is not known, the death results possibly due to brain anomalies associated with breathing and arousal from sleep.

Some factors that increase SIDS risk and preventive measures have been explained, though. Letting the baby sleep on his/her back is the key to preventing an occurrence of SIDS.

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2 Causes

Various physical and sleep environmental factors can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). These factors are highly variable among children.

  • Physical factors:
    • Brain abnormalities: Infants who are born with abnormalities in the part of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep are at a greater risk of dying from SIDS.
    • Low birth weight: Incomplete brain development could be a cause of SIDS in infants who have a premature birth. Involuntary processes such as breathing and heart rate in such infants are not well regulated.
    • Respiratory infection: Breathing problems caused by respiratory tract infections as simple as a cold could increase a chance of death from SIDS.
  • Sleep environmental factors: Sleep positions and crib conditions could increase the risk of SIDS.

For example:

    • sleeping on the stomach or side can cause breathing problems while sleeping on backs is safer.
    • Similarly, sleeping on a soft surface facing downward can obstruct breathing in infants.
    • Covering infant’s face while sleeping is also risky.
    • Sleeping with parents: It is quite understandable that sleeping with parents is a safer option. Conversely, it also increases the risk of SIDS because soft surfaces such as a parent’s body could impair breathing in infants.

3 Prevention

None of the methods can ensure a complete sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) prevention. However, some measures can offer safer sleep conditions for your baby.

Some of them are:

  • Sleeping on back: Letting your baby sleep on his/her back is a safer option compared to sleeping on side or stomach.

Sometimes, you may let your baby sleep on his/her stomach when he/she is upset. This not safe. Inform sitters about the possible dangers of letting the baby sleep on his/ her stomach.

  • Keeping the child’s crib occupied with various items can add to the risk of SIDS. Try to minimize unnecessary items in the crib.
  • A soft mattress or a thick quilt can obstruct your infant’s breathing during sleep. Instead, use a firm mattress and don’t place your baby on thick, fluffy padding. Use a lightweight mattress if you need to use it. Don’t cover your baby above the shoulders and don’t forget to fix the blanket into the foot of the mattress.
  • Leave your baby's head uncovered to ensure proper breathing.
  • Let your baby sleep in his/her crib, adult beds may not be safe for your baby. An adult bed can have various factors that add to the risk of SIDS in your baby, for example, the baby can become trapped and suffocate in the space between the mattress and the bed frame, or the space between the mattress and the wall. Likewise, a parent in sleep may unknowingly cover the baby’s nose and mouth.
  • Encourage breastfeeding: At least six months of breastfeeding is shown to decrease the risk of SIDS.
  • Many baby monitors or other commercial devices claim to reduce the risk of SIDS but they are ineffective and may be unsafe at times. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against the use of such products.
  • Offer a pacifier: Using a pacifier at naptime and bedtime may reduce the risk of SIDS. Don’t use a pacifier until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old.

4 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with sudden infant death.

Losing a baby is a devastating experience. The pain and guilt of loss are further worsened by police investigations.

Talk to your doctor about any support group where you will be able to share your pain with people who have undergone similar life changing the experience.

You may release and ease your pain by talking to a trusted friend or counselor.

Letting your family and friends know what you are going through can help them come out to support you.

This tragic event can strain your marriage as well. Talk to a counselor to find out how things can be normalized. Remember that time heals almost every pain.

Take your time to shed tear and heal yourself.

5 Risks and Complications

Any infant can be a victim of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) but some factors contribute to increased risk, such as:

  • Sex: Boys are more likely to die of SIDS.
  • Age: Second and third months of life are the periods of heightened risk.
  • Race: For unknown reasons, certain races like black, American Indian or Eskimo infants are more prone to SIDS.
  • Family history: Previous events of SIDS in siblings or cousins boost your baby’s risk.
  • Secondhand smoke: Smoking kills you and your baby too. Babies exposed to second-hand smoke are at greater risk.
  • Being premature: Premature birth and low birth weight are both risks for your baby's chances of SIDS.
  • Maternal risk factors: Certain factors during pregnancy can increase your risk of SIDS such as
    • Early pregnancy at an age before 20
    • Smoking, using drugs or alcohol, inadequate medical care during pregnancy

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