Definition of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – the unexpected and unexplainable death of an infant under age one year, most commonly between the ages of two and four months. Researchers do not know what causes SIDS, though believe a malfunction occurs in the infant’s basic metabolic regulatory mechanisms that allows blood pressure, breathing, and body temperature to fluctuate.

Also for reasons researchers do not understand, SIDS is three times more frequent among African American and Native American infants. SIDS is also more likely to occur among infants whose mothers are under age 20 years, smoke, gain inadequate weight during pregnancy, or have pregnancies less than a year apart.

Infants who sleep on their backs have a significantly lower rate of SIDS than infants who sleep on their sides or stomachs, prompting the national “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994 to lower the risk for SIDS. Deaths due to SIDS dropped almost in half in subsequent years. Because researchers do not know why SIDS occurs, however, they are not certain how, or whether it is possible, to prevent it.

Because the infant’s death is sudden and unexplained, local authorities must investigate. This adds to the emotional trauma for families because it is a difficult experience to undergo and even when SIDS is the conclusion, the question of why often remains unanswered. Inasmuch as the causes of SIDS remain unclear, health and law-enforcement experts do know that SIDS is not the result of parental neglect or child abuse.

Infants born prematurely and those whose mothers smoked during pregnancy appear to have higher risk for SIDS. Pediatricians may recommend special monitors for especially vulnerable infants that sound an alarm when the infant’s breathing rate or body temperature becomes higher or lower than normal.

Key Measures for Preventing SIDS

  • Place infant on his or her back to sleep, not on the side or stomach.
  • Place infant to sleep in his or her own crib.
  • Maintain the infant’s room at a temperature warm enough to allow sleeping without blankets but not hot.
  • Keep heavy blankets, quilts, and stuffed animals out of the infant’s crib.
  • Maintain a smoke-free living environment and prevent exposure to cigarette smoke in general.


How did you like this article?

Page last reviewed:

About Us