The facts about SIDS
10/24/2022 by Marcia O'Brien, M.D.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is defined as an infant death that occurs in an otherwise healthy infant prior to 1 year of age and without another identifiable cause. SIDS remains the leading cause of infant death between 1 month and 1 year of age.
The risk from SIDS is greatest before 6 months, though this risk extends to 1 year of life. SIDS occurs at a higher incidence in day care settings than in private family homes.
While the incidence of SIDS is less than 1 per 1,000 children, the risk of an infant dying from SIDS during the first year of life is greater than 20 times higher than the risk of death during any of the subsequent 17 years during a child's life.
Significant research has been conducted to identify factors or causes of SIDS. As a result of these research efforts, many risk factors have been identified that have led to strategies to reduce the risk for infants, including changes in environment, behaviors of caregivers and promoting safe sleep practices for infants. These changes have successfully reduced the number of infant deaths from SIDS, though they have not eliminated all infant deaths from SIDS.
To reduce the risk of SIDS, you should:
- Place babies on their back to sleep every time.
- Provide a separate sleep surface that is firm and not shared, and in the caregiver's room for the first 6–12 months of life.
- Remove soft objects and loose bedding, such as bumper pads and stuffed animals or toys, from the baby's sleep area.
- Breastfeed infants.
- Use pacifiers during sleep.
- Avoid overheating.
- Avoid secondhand smoke exposure.
- Vaccinate infants on schedule with regular visits to clinicians.
In addition, caregivers should avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
Regular obstetric medical care and proper nutrition for moms prior to the infant's birth reduces the risk for premature birth and low birth weight. Preconception care for families is important to help parents, family members and other caregivers optimize medical care, encourage healthy behaviors and wellness practices, and update immunizations.
Talk to your health care team for more information on how to keep your new baby safe, happy and healthy.
Marcia O'Brien, M.D., is a physician in the Department of Family Medicine at Mayo Family Clinic Northeast in Rochester. She practices the full spectrum of family medicine, including hospital medicine, newborn nursery and obstetrics care.