Reduce Your Baby’s Risk for SIDS

What Is SIDS?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, or is the sudden, unexplained death of a baby who seems to be healthy and is less than one year old. These deaths typically occur during sleep, and the infants often die in their cribs, which is why SIDS is sometimes known as “crib death.” SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants 1 to 12 months old.

The specific cause of SIDS is not known, although researchers have identified some factors that may put some babies at extra risk. These factors include abnormalities in the infant’s brain relating to arousal from sleep and breathing. Researchers have also identified certain measures that caregivers can take to help protect babies from SIDS.

What are the causes of SIDS?

There is increasing evidence suggesting that infants who die from SIDS are born with certain brain abnormalities, with the defects mainly located in the part of the brain that controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and waking from sleep. Scientists and researchers believe that the portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep isn’t yet mature enough to work properly. Health care providers are not currently able to screen babies to identify babies who are born with these brain abnormalities, but researchers and scientists are working to develop screening tests for newborns.

Even though certain brain abnormalities are associated with SIDS, scientists believe that the brain abnormalities alone are not sufficient to cause SIDS. Instead, SIDS is more often present under a combination of physical and environmental considerations. In other words, other factors must be present for an infant to die from SIDS. Researchers now believe that if all of the below factors occur simultaneously, the chances of a baby dying from SIDS is high, whereas, having only one factor present does not make a SIDS death likely.

Physical factors that, when present and combined, increase the likelihood of a SIDS death:

  • brain abnormalities,

  • low birth weight/prematurity,

  • respiratory infection,

  • being male,

  • being between 2 to 3 months old,

  • members of the following races: African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native,

  • family history of SIDS,

  • being exposed to secondhand smoke,

  • having a mother who is younger than 20,

  • having a mother who smokes cigarettes or uses drugs/alcohol, and

  • being born to a mother who had inadequate prenatal care.

Baby’s sleep environment can, in combination with his or her physical problems, increase the risk of SIDS. Specifically, the following sleep environment conditions tend to increase the likelihood of a SIDS death:

  • sleeping on the stomach or side,

  • sleeping on a soft surface, and

  • sleeping with parents.

How Parents Can Reduce the Risk of SIDS

As mentioned above, at this time, health care providers are not able to screen babies to determine which babies are more likely to die from SIDS. In addition, caregivers are not likely to be able to control certain physical factors that make a baby more likely to die from SIDS, such as brain abnormalities, low birth weight, and respiratory infections. However, there are important measures caregivers can take to control their baby’s environment and reduce potential risks of SIDS.

  1. Always place baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night.

  2. Always place baby to sleep on a firm and flat surface, using a tight fitting sheet with no toys, bedding, blankets or other items in the sleeping area.

  3. Do not put baby to sleep in a car seat, swing, stroller, infant carrier, or sling, which do not allow baby to fully recline on his or her back to sleep.

  4. Check to be sure that the crib or play yard in which baby sleeps is in good condition and has not been recalled. For information on crib and play yard recalls and other safety issues, contact the CPSC at 1-800-638-2772 or

  5. Do not use crib bumpers in baby’s sleep area.

  6. Give your baby plenty of “tummy time” to help strengthen your baby’s neck, shoulder, and arm muscles. Keep a close eye on baby during “tummy time.”

  7. Breastfeed your baby. Babies who are breastfed or who are fed breastmilk are at lower risk for SIDS than babies who were never fed breastmilk.

  8. Allow baby to sleep in your room, but in a separate sleeping area for the first 6 months to one year of life.

  9. Do not allow your baby to share your bed with you.

  10. Do not smoke around your baby or allow others to smoke around your baby.

  11. Take care of yourself before, during, and after pregnancy: get regular prenatal care during pregnancy, avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, and using marijuana or illegal drugs during pregnancy or after the baby is born.

  12. Once baby is breastfeeding well, offer baby a pacifier during sleep. Do not use string, clips or other attachments to the pacifier as these accessories carry their own risks including choking and strangulation.

  13. Do not over-bundle baby for sleep; make sure baby’s head is uncovered for sleep, and make sure baby does not get too hot during sleep. Consider purchasing a “wearable blanket” for sleep, as opposed to swaddling baby.

  14. Follow your doctor’s advice on regular health care, checkups, and vaccines for baby.

  15. Practice skin-to-skin care: keeping baby physically close frequently has been shown to help a baby’s neurological system mature.

Taking care of a new baby is a tremendous joy and a huge responsibility. SIDS is a frightening reality that cannot be ignored. Caregivers should learn all they can about SIDS and take all of preventative measures possible to avoid the tragedy of sudden infant death.

If you’ve suffered a loss due to someone else’s negligence, contact The Allen Law Firm for a free consultation at 1-866-388-1307.