Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), sometimes referred to as crib death, is the unexplained death of a child who is less than a year old, typically during sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 1,500 infant deaths due to SIDS in 2016, and an additional 2,100 deaths due to unknown causes or accidental suffocation or strangulation.

As a leading Denver-area pediatric clinic, we know it’s important for parents and other caregivers to understand SIDS and have steps they can take to help minimize the risk.

What Causes SIDS?

While experts don’t know precisely what causes SIDS, there are a number of physical attributes and sleep environment conditions that are believed to increase the risk. The physical factors include:

  • Recent respiratory illness. In many SIDS cases, the infant had recently had a cold or other respiratory infection that might have caused breathing problems that contributed to her death.
  • Issues with certain brain areas. Some babies are born with brain defects that affect the areas responsible for breathing and waking from sleep. If these areas have not fully developed, they may not function properly.
  • Low birth weight. Babies that have below-normal birth weight due to premature birth, being part of a multiple birth or other causes may have brains that haven’t matured enough to effectively control critical automatic functions like heart rate and breathing.
Aspects of a baby’s sleeping environment that can impact SIDS risk include:
  • Sleeping on the side or stomach. It is suspected that babies placed in positions other than on their back may have breathing difficulties that contribute to their SIDS risk.
  • Being too warm. Overheating during sleep can increase a baby’s SIDS risk.
  • Sleeping on a soft or uneven surface. Especially if a baby is face down, a surface that is thick or uneven can block their airway, resulting in a higher risk of SIDS.
  • Sleeping with others. Babies that sleep in the same bed as parents, siblings or pets have a higher risk of SIDS.

Other SIDS Risk Factors

In addition to the issues above, researchers have found a number of other factors that affect SIDS risk, such as:

  • Exposure to secondhand smoke. Babies whose parents or others in the home smoke around them have a higher risk of SIDS.
  • Age. The highest percentage of SIDS deaths occur between two and four months of age.
  • Gender. Boys have a slightly higher risk of dying of SIDS.
  • Family history of SIDS. Babies that have siblings or cousins who have died of SIDS have a higher risk.
  • Race. Nonwhite infants are more likely to die of SIDS.
  • Maternal issues. Babies born to mothers who are under 20 years of age, use drugs or alcohol, smoke or who did not receive appropriate prenatal care have an elevated SIDS risk.

Decreasing the Risk of SIDS

While certain SIDS risk factors are beyond your control, there are steps you can take to decrease the risk. You should:

  • Put your baby down to sleep on her back for the first year of life and insist that any other caregivers do so as well.
  • Have a sleeping environment that has a firm, even surface free of pillows, toys or anything else that could interfere with breathing.
  • Have your baby sleep in your room but in a crib. Do not allow your baby to sleep in the same bed with others.
  • Prevent overheating by keeping the sleep environment at a comfortable temperature.
  • Breastfeed for at least six months if possible.
  • Offer a pacifier (one without a strap or string) when you put your baby down.
  • Immunize your baby, as evidence suggests immunization lowers SIDS risk.
Talk with Your Pediatrician

If you have a question about your children, want to schedule a check-up appointment, or are looking for a Denver-area pediatrician and want to learn more about our practice, call us at 303-430-0823.