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About SIDS

What is SIDS?

SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is defined as the death of an infant between the ages of 1 and 12 months, that remains unexplained after a thorough investigation, which includes a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the victim’s medical history. SIDS is declared the cause of death only after all other known and possible causes of death have been ruled out.

SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants between 1 and 12 months of age in the United States. It claims 8 babies every day in America. That's approximately 3000 precious lives every year.

SIDS Claims 8 Babies a Day

Julia. Thomas. William. Liza. Sean. Emily. Annabelle. Michael.

Eight names. Eight babies.

That's how many infants die of SIDS every single day in our country.

Countless. That's how many lives are affected by SIDS.

When you add up the parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, pastors, and friends whose lives are torn apart when a child is lost to SIDS, the damage is immeasurable.

While all children's deaths are devastating to their families and those who loved them, SIDS presents special emotional challenges for those left behind. The suddenness of it and lack of closure makes the healing process exceptionally difficult. That's why SIDS America seeks to serve those who have been left behind and prevent more children from being taken by SIDS.

SIDS Prevention Tips

Please note that while these practices are helpful in reducing the risk, SIDS still claims the lives of some babies who possessed no risk factors.

  • Put your infant on his/her back to sleep. Always. Babies who are used to sleeping on their backs and then are put to sleep on their stomachs are up to 18 times more likely to die from SIDS.

  • Do not co-sleep with your baby or have your baby sleep in the same bed with other children.

  • SIDS America suggest using The Halo SleepSack Swaddle ( and The Miracle Blanket ( Both are wonderful swaddling blankets, and when he/she begins to bust out of the swaddle, use the Halo SleepSack Wearable Blanket (

  • Put your baby on his/her tummy to play when he/she is awake. Periodic “tummy times” help strengthen your infant’s shoulder and neck muscles.

  • Put your baby to sleep on a firm surface, preferably a firm, sheet-covered crib mattress.

  • Do not place soft objects or loose bedding in the crib. Pillows, stuffed animals, quilts, blankets, comforters, sheepskins, and even bumper pads can be hazardous.

  • Ask your pediatrician to prescribe an apnea monitor. SIDS America recommends the Smart Monitor 2 Apnea Monitor ( It connects the baby via a fabric belt with electrodes that monitor his/her breathing and heart rate. Instead of disrupting your baby's sleep several times a night, you'll be able to quickly glance over at the monitor and see both lights blinking green and know that he/she is just fine.  

  • As a mother, you should take good care of your body and baby's body. Receive prenatal and postnatal care. Do not use drugs or alcohol, and be in tune with your child’s pediatrician about your child’s health needs.

  • During pregnancy and after, do not smoke, and do not allow others to smoke near your baby. Keep your baby away from cigarette smoke at all times.

  • Do not let your baby get overheated. Dress your baby as you would dress. Fever, sweat, damp hair, heat rash, and feeling hot to the touch are signs of an overheated child.

  • Breast feed your baby if possible.

  • After the first month of life, and throughout the first year, offer a pacifier to your infant at bedtime and naptime.

SIDS Risk Factors and Causes of SIDS

While SIDS is still not understood fully, several factors can increase a baby's risk of dying from SIDS. They include:

  • Baby sleeping on his back

  • Infants with low birth weight.

  • Premature infants.

  • Sex of the baby. Boys are more susceptible to SIDS.

  • Age of baby. Babies are most vulnerable to SIDS when they are 1-6 months old, with vulnerability peaking at 2-3 months of age.

  • Race of baby. African America, American Indian or Native Alaskan babies are at greater risk for SIDS.

  • Babies who sleep on their stomachs are at much higher risk to die from SIDS than are babies who sleep on their backs.

  • Babies who are used to sleeping on their backs and suddenly switch to sleeping on their stomachs are at a much higher risk.

  • Exposure to secondhand smoke.

  • Season of birth. SIDS increases during cooler weather.

  • Overheating. Risk of SIDS increases when babies get overheated because they are overdressed, covered with multiple blankets or their rooms are too warm.

  • Recent respiratory infections. Commonly, autopsies reveal evidence of a respiratory infection within four weeks of death.

  • Siblings of a baby who died of SIDS. Though the risk increase is likely small, some genetic disorders may be involved.

  • Mothers who have:

    • Inadequate prenatal care

    • Placental abnormalities

    • Low weight gain during pregnancy

    • First pregnancy when they were younger than 20 years of age

    • Anemia

    • History of sexually transmitted diseases or urinary tract infections

    • History of drug use or smoking during or after pregnancy

Fast Facts About SIDS

  • SIDS claims 8 babies every day in the United States. That's approximately 3000 lives each year.

  • SIDS is declared the cause of death only after all other known and possible causes of death have been ruled out.

  • SIDS has no warning signs and occurs quickly and suddenly, most often while babies are sleeping. Death is the first and only symptom.

  • Babies who have died of SIDS reveal no apparent signs of having suffered or struggled. 

  • Nothing can prevent SIDS from occurring, and it can claim any baby, even when all steps are taken to help reduce the risk of SIDS.  

  • SIDS claims the lives of infants who appeared perfectly healthy before death, even to their pediatricians. 

  • SIDS occurs in families of all ethnicities and socioeconomic levels.

  • SIDS is NOT contagious or hereditary.

  • SIDS is NOT caused by immunizations, choking, suffocation, smothering, or apnea.

  • SIDS is NOT a result of child neglect or abuse.

The Impact of SIDS

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among infants between 1 and 12 months of age in America.

  • Studies have shown that the loss of a child, especially a sudden loss, is among the most traumatic, devastating losses for any individual or couple to experience. It affects the family for the rest of their lives.

  • The death of a child is often very taxing on a marriage and may increase a couple's risk for divorce or separation.

  • Families have no time to prepare (financially, emotionally, mentally, physically) for the sudden, unexpected death of a child. That's why SIDS America offers emotional and financial support to the ones who have been left behind.

  • Faced with the absence of an explainable cause, families struggle greatly with their need for understanding their baby’s tragic and sudden death. In their lifetime, they may never have all the answers. 

  • Because the cause of death remains unexplained, even when autopsy reveals no other possible or known cause, parents struggle with feelings of guilt and responsibility for the death of their child. The “what ifs” permeate the parents’ thoughts as they desperately seek to explain their child’s death and consider whether there was anything they could do to prevent the tragedy.

  • SIDS, thankfully, is a rare occurrence, but that brings no relief to the families who do lose a child to SIDS. Parents often feel isolated and lonely, as it is not common among family and friends to find others who can personally relate to their loss.

Research on SIDS

Hormone Deficiency Could Cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
By SACHA PFEIFFER, WBUR 90.9, Boston, Massachusetts 

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the leading cause of death for babies between one month and 12 months old. But why some infants who seem totally healthy suddenly die in their sleep has mystified researchers for years. Now, a new study out of Children’s Hospital Boston finds a possible reason.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome seems like a bolt out of nowhere. A happy, active baby falls asleep and just doesn’t wake up.

But Dr. Hannah Kinney, a neuropathologist at Children’s Hospital, led a group of researchers who studied the brain stems of babies who had died of SIDS and found something striking: they had abnormally low levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate breathing, heart rate and blood pressure during sleep.

Low serotonin levels aren’t a problem when a baby is awake, “but when the baby goes to sleep, we feel there’s something that unmasks the serotonin defect with sleep itself,” said Dr. Kinney, who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Babies with too little serotonin can have trouble when they sleep. They’re at risk, for example, of re-breathing their own carbon dioxide if they’re sleeping in a face-down position.

When a normal baby starts to inhale its carbon dioxide, “the baby raises its head, it stirs, it wakes up and its airway is protected,” Dr. Kinney explained. “But if there’s a defect in the neurotransmitter system, then the baby can’t arouse and goes on to die.”

Dr. Kinney said that’s why putting babies to sleep face-up is safer than letting them sleep on their bellies.

Low serotonin levels can also be deadly if a baby is bundled too tightly in a blanket, because a normal baby can cool off by sweating, but a baby without enough serotonin can overheat and die.

Dr. Kinney now wants to find out why some babies have low serotonin levels. She also wants to devise a method for testing if living infants don’t have enough serotonin, and a method for treating that problem.

Finally, she wants to develop a diagnostic test that could be done during autopsies of babies who die while sleeping so that medical examiners can determine if their deaths were due to a serotonin deficiency.

“But all those things are decades away from where we are now,” Dr. Kinney said.

Still, some steps can be taken now to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Marian Willinger, who oversees SIDS research at the National Institutes of Health, said parents can take preventive measures, such as placing babies to sleep on their backs, avoiding soft bedding and avoiding so-called bed-sharing.

“You can bring the baby into bed to cuddle or to breast feed,” Willinger explained, “but then, when you’re ready to go to sleep, you should place your baby in a proximate but safe sleeping environment.”

Some doctors also recommend using pacifiers because they may keep a baby’s airway open. And pregnant women should avoid drinking or smoking, because some studies show that alcohol and nicotine can lower a developing baby’s serotonin levels.

In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep on a firm mattress and a fitted sheet, and that a baby’s crib should not contain pillows, quilts, comforters or stuffed toys because they can cover an infant’s face.

Willinger said she hopes this new serotonin research will help soften some of the pain that comes with losing a baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

“If you talk to parents, they’re always second-guessing themselves: ‘Well, the baby cried, maybe I should have picked up the baby,’ all kinds of things,” Willinger said. “Because not knowing what actually the baby died from is very difficult for them.”

But now that the Children’s Hospital study shows that SIDS could be due to a hidden medical disorder, doctors may one day find a way to make that problem obsolete.

“I’ve already talked to a number of parents in the last 24, 48 hours as this story has been evolving,” Kinney said, “and I think the major thing that they’ve told me is that it brings them hope; that, some day, there will be a way to prevent this on a medical model, and that nobody will suffer this like they did.”

This latest research should reassure parents that SIDS is not caused by “something they did because they didn’t check the baby an extra time that night,” she added. “It’s a disease process that’s taking its toll.”

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

What Parents Need To Know

Dr. Hannah Kinney, the lead researcher on a new study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, says parents should follow national recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS.

  • Put a baby to sleep on its back

  • Use a safety-approved crib, with a firm mattress and fitted sheet

  • Don’t put a baby to sleep on a chair, sofa, water bed, cushion or sheepskin

  • The safest place for a baby to sleep is within an arm’s reach of the parent’s bed

  • If bumper pads are used, they should be thin, firm and well-secured

  • If blankets are used, they should be tucked in and not reach higher than a baby’s chest

  • Keep pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins and stuffed toys out of the crib

  • Use light sleep clothing so that a baby doesn’t get too warm

  • Pacifiers may help, but shouldn’t be forced upon a baby. If breastfeeding, wait until baby is one month old before pacifier use

  • Give a baby plenty of “tummy time” while awake to strengthen neck muscles and avoid flat head spots

  • Avoid smoking and drinking during pregnancy

  • Share sleep information with anyone who cares for a baby

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics

New Clue Into Cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
By BEA KARNES, News First 5, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the leading cause of death for babies under a year old with most SIDS deaths occurring between the ages of 2 and 4 months.

The deaths come without warning, and for a long time without any known cause. Parents these days are told to put their newborn babies to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk for SIDS. The "Back To Sleep" campaign has been successful, reducing the number of crib deaths by about half since it began in the early 90's.

Still, thousands of seemingly healthy babies die in their sleep each year.

"You cannot tell a living baby is going to die of SIDS that night. There's no marker," said Dr. Hannah Kinney of Children's Hospital Boston.

But now doctors at Children's Hospital Boston have uncovered a big clue leading them to a likely cause for SIDS.

"We've come to focus on serotonin," said Dr. Kinney.

Dr. Kinney, along with a team of doctors and scientists has found that SIDS babies have low levels of serotonin in their brainstems.

Serotonin helps regulate breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Too little could impair those functions especially during sleep.

"Something about sleep unmasks the defect when the baby is stressed," said Kinney.

Stress, like re-breathing carbon dioxide when they're sleeping on their tummies makes affected babies vulnerable.

Researchers say infants with normal brainstem serotonin levels would be able to wake up long enough to turn their heads and breathe fresh air.

The long-term goal is to develop a test to identify which babies have this serotonin defect and then try to prevent it altogether.Some pregnant women take antidepressant drugs called SSRIs that affect serotonin levels in the mother.

But there is no conclusive research on whether those drugs impact developing brainstems.

Doctors say pregnant women prescribed such medication should not stop taking it based on this study.

What expecting mothers should forego, are alcohol and cigarettes.

Experts say both greatly increase the risk for SIDS.

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