Sometimes a baby who seems healthy dies during sleep. This is called
sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.
In most cases, a parent or caregiver places the baby down to sleep and
returns later to find the baby has died. It's no one's fault. SIDS can happen
even when you do everything right.
Although SIDS is rare, it is
one of the most common causes of death in babies between 1 and 12 months of
age. Most babies who die of SIDS are between the ages of 2 and 4 months.
Doctors don't know what causes
SIDS. It seems to happen more often in
premature and low-birth-weight babies. It also is seen
more often in babies whose mothers didn't get medical care during the
pregnancy and in babies whose mothers smoke. SIDS may also be more likely in
babies who were part of a multiple pregnancy (for example, twins or triplets)
or whose mothers are younger than 20.
When babies sleep on their
bellies, they may not breathe well. Not too long ago, side sleeping was said to
be okay. But babies placed on their sides can easily roll onto their bellies
and could have trouble breathing.
Researchers are studying the
possibility that SIDS may be caused by problems with how well the brain
controls breathing, heart rate and rhythm, and temperature during the first
few months of life. More research on this is needed.
SIDS has no symptoms or
warning signs. Babies who die of SIDS seem healthy before being put to bed.
They show no signs of struggle and are often found in the same position as when
they were placed in the bed.
SIDS is named the cause of
death only when no other cause is found. To find out why a baby died, medical
experts review the baby's and parents' medical histories, study the area where
the baby died, and do an
Doing certain things may help protect a
baby from SIDS and/or other deaths related to sleep:1
is no sure way to prevent SIDS, and no exam or test can predict whether a baby is likely to die of SIDS. Don't rely on breathing (apnea) monitors, special mattresses, or other devices marketed as a
way to reduce your baby's risk of SIDS. None of these items have been proved to lower the risk of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not advise their use.
Remember, SIDS is rare. Be as safe as you can, but don't let
fear keep you from enjoying your baby. Tell your baby's caregivers what you expect
them to do. Don't assume that they know what to do to help keep your infant safe during sleep.
Each member of your family may respond to the loss of the baby in a
different way. These different ways of coping with the baby's death can strain a marriage
and a family. Along with feeling grief, family members may be struggling with feelings
of guilt. Support from family, friends, your doctor, and possibly other health professionals is very important for everyone. You might find it helpful to:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Learning about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS):
When SIDS occurs:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers a
variety of educational materials about parenting,
general growth and development, immunizations, safety, disease prevention, and more. AAP guidelines for various conditions and links to other
organizations are also available.
This nonprofit agency has information about SIDS, grieving, and related topics for parents,
nurses, and other groups.
Mental Health America (formerly known as the National
Mental Health Association) is a nonprofit agency devoted to helping people of
all ages live mentally healthier lives. Its website has information about
mental health conditions. It also addresses issues such as grief, stress,
bullying, and more. It includes a confidential depression screening test for
anyone who would like to take it. The short test may help you decide whether
your symptoms are related to depression.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development (NICHD) is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The
NICHD conducts and supports research related to the health of children, adults,
and families. NICHD has information on its Web site about many health topics.
And you can send specific requests to information specialists.
This website has information about sudden infant death, grieving the loss of
an infant, and general infant health.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Expansion of recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 128(5): 1030–1039.
Other Works Consulted
Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee (2008). ABM clinical protocol #6: Guideline on co-sleeping and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Medicine, 3(1): 38–43.
Corwin MJ (2011). Apparent life-threatening events and SIDS. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 451–454. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Federico MJ, et al. (2011). Respiratory tract and mediastinum. In WW Hay et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 487–535. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hauck FR, Tanabe KO (2009). SIDS, search date April 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Hunt CE, Hauck FR (2011). Sudden infant death syndrome. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 1421–1429. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Hymel KP and the Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect,
American Academy of Pediatrics (2006, reaffirmed 2009). Clinical report: Distinguishing sudden
infant death syndrome from child abuse fatalities. Pediatrics, 118(1): 421–427.
Kinney HC, Thach BT (2009). The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine, 361(8): 795–805.
Kline A, Gibson E (2006). Sudden infant death syndrome. In FD Burg et al., eds., Current Pediatric Therapy, 18th ed., pp. 258–260. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Vennemann MM, et al. (2009). Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Pediatrics, 123(3): e406–e410.
May 16, 2012
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
& Chuck Norlin, MD - Pediatrics
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