Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

(Crib Death; SIDS)


Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) refers to the unexpected, unexplained death of a child less than one year old. SIDS is rare during the first month of life. It peaks at 2-4 months of age, then gradually decreases.


Experts do not know the exact cause of SIDS. Many theories exist. Potential causes include:
  • Abnormalities in a section of the brain that controls breathing during sleep and waking
  • Abnormalities in the control of heart rhythm
  • Changes in how serotonin, a neurotransmitter, functions in the brain
  • Changes in some components of the immune system
  • Inadequate arousal response to breathing obstruction or asphyxia—a lack of oxygen or excess carbon dioxide in the body caused by interruption of breathing; may cause unconsciousness
Area of the brain involved in regulation of breathing.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

SIDS is more common in infants less than 6 months old. Other factors that increase your infant's chance of SIDS include:
  • Low birth weight
  • Delayed fetal growth
  • History of SIDS death in a sibling
  • History of an acute life-threatening event
  • Previous incident of unexplained severe apnea—when breathing is repeatedly interrupted and requires resuscitation
  • Sleeping on the stomach or side rather than back
  • Other risk factors are more general and include:
    • Smoking during pregnancy or in a house where the baby is sleeping
    • Alcohol , excessive caffeine, opiate, or cocaine use during pregnancy
    • Mother's age—younger than 20 during first pregnancy
    • Poverty
    • Black, Native American, and Alaskan Native families
    • Sex: male
    • History of anemia or a urinary tract infection while pregnant
    • No or late prenatal care
    • Premature birth
    • Recent infection and/or fever
    • Cold weather in late fall or winter
    • Overheating
    • Low socioeconomic status or low level of education
    • Co-sleeping in parents room
    • Loose covers and blankets

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