SIDS: Reducing the Risk


Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is among the greatest fears of parents with newborns. Though little is known about the cause of this condition, the incidence of SIDS is declining as the result of a public awareness effort. The "Back to Sleep" campaign, initiated by the National Institutes of Health, provides guidelines for reducing the risk. SIDS is the leading cause of death in children 1 month to 1 year of age. In the United States, 5,000 to 6,000 infant deaths are attributed to SIDS each year.

According to the American SIDS Institute, SIDS is defined as the sudden and unexpected death of an apparently healthy infant, whose death remains unexplained after an autopsy, investigation of the scene and circumstances of the death, and exploration of the medical history of the infant and family. SIDS is a classification that is used to describe an infant whose death cannot be otherwise explained. It is not a disease, nor can it be a diagnosis for a living baby.

Revised recommendations, released in April, 1999 by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, outline ways parents that can further reduce the risk of losing a child to SIDS.

  • Always have the baby sleep on his or her back unless your doctor instructs you otherwise for medical reasons. Remember the phrase "Back to Sleep"
  • Don't put soft materials, such as stuffed toys, pillows, or comforters in the crib with the baby at night or at naptime
  • Keep soft things such as toys, blankets, and pillows away from the baby's face and head while he or she is sleeping
  • Do not put a baby under 12 months old to bed on top of or covered by soft blankets, mattresses, pillows, or toys
  • Tuck in blankets and sheets firmly at the baby's feet, and only cover the baby only up to the chest
  • Don't put the baby to sleep on soft surfaces such as a couch, waterbed, pillow, or other surface that can conform to the child's face
  • Have the baby wear a sleeper to bed to eliminate the need for heavy blankets in the crib. The baby will stay warm without needing lots of blankets
  • Don't smoke near the baby. Babies of smokers are at an increased risk of developing more colds and upper respiratory illnesses, as well as SIDS, compared to children in a smoke-free environment
  • If the baby seems sick, take him or her to the doctor without delay.
  • Make sure to take care of the baby before he or she is even born by having regular prenatal checkups, eating well, and not smoking during pregnancy

While doctors still don't know what causes SIDS, the number of cases in the U.S. has dropped by nearly 43 percent since 1992, when the "Back to Sleep" campaign began.