Reducing the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: What You Can Do

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is rare, but still strikes nearly 6,000 (1 in 1,000) babies in the United States every year. Parents want to do everything possible to decrease the risk that their babies will be among that number.

The cause of SIDS is unknown. However, sleeping position has been found to reduce the risk of SIDS. Studies in Europe and Scandinavia report a decrease of 50 percent in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as a result of simply putting healthy babies on their backs whenever they sleep.

Talk to your baby’s physician about the sleeping position that is best for your new baby. Certain health conditions require a tummy-down sleeping position. If your baby was born with a birth defect, or has a breathing, lung, or heart problem, be sure to talk to your physician about which sleep position to use. Be sure baby sitters, relatives, and daycare workers know which sleeping position is best for your baby.

What is SIDS?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is defined as “the sudden death of an infant under one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and a review of the clinical history.”

SIDS, sometimes referred to as crib death, is the major cause of death in babies from one month to one year of age. Most SIDS deaths occur when a baby is between one and four months old. More boys than girls are victims, and most deaths occur during the fall, winter, and early spring months.

The death is sudden and unpredictable. In most cases, the baby seems healthy. Death occurs quickly, usually during a sleep time. A great deal of research is being conducted to determine the causes of SIDS. However, after 30 years of research, scientists still cannot point to one definite cause or causes. There is no way to predict or prevent the occurrence of SIDS. But, placing a baby on his or her back when sleeping has impacted the number of cases of SIDS.

Some mothers worry that babies sleeping on their back may choke on spit-up or vomit during sleep. There is no evidence that sleeping on the back causes choking. Millions of babies around the world now sleep on their backs and physicians have not found an increase in choking or other problems.

Helpful Hints:
At first, some babies don’t like sleeping on their back. Swaddling them snuggly may help. Talk to your physician if you are concerned about your baby’s sleep. While sleeping on his or her back may help protect your baby from SIDS, there are other things that will also help to keep your new baby healthy.

  • Bedding. Make sure your baby sleeps on a firm mattress or other firm surface. Don’t use fluffy blankets or comforters under the baby. Don’t let the baby sleep on a waterbed, sheepskin, a pillow, or other soft materials. When your baby is very young, don’t place soft stuffed toys or pillows in the crib with him or her. While these toys are cute, some babies have smothered because of the presence of soft materials in their crib.
  • Room Sharing. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is growing evidence that room sharing (infant sleeping in the parent’s room) without bed sharing (baby should be in their own crib) is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS.
  • Temperature. Babies should be kept warm, but they should not be allowed to get too warm. Keep the temperature in your baby’s room comfortable to you.
  • Smoke-Free. Create a smoke-free zone around your baby. No one should smoke tobacco or other substances around your baby. Babies and young children exposed to smoke have an increased risk of SIDS. If you are a smoker, never sleep with your baby.
  • Physician or Clinical Visits. If your baby seems sick, call your physician or clinic right away. Make sure your baby receives his or her immunizations on schedule.
  • Prenatal Care. Provides a healthy start for your baby. Be sure to schedule early and regular prenatal care. The risk of SIDS is higher for babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. It is also important for pregnant women not to use alcohol or drugs (unless prescribed by a physician).
  • Breastfeeding. Consider breastfeeding your baby. Breast milk contains antibodies and nutrients to help keep your baby healthy and has been associated with a lower incidence of SIDS.
  • Pacifiers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, several studies have reported a protective effect of pacifiers on the incidence of SIDS, particularly when used at the time of baby’s last sleep. Pacifiers do not seem to cause shortened breastfeeding duration for term and pre-term infants.
  • Awake Time. Place your baby on his or her tummy often when awake and under your watchful eye. “Tummy time” helps prevent flattening of the back of the head and gives babies an opportunity to strengthen neck muscles.
  • Enjoy your baby! Most babies are born healthy, and most stay that way. SIDS is rare. Don’t let the fear of SIDS spoil your enjoyment of having a new baby!

If you have any questions about your baby's sleep position or health, talk first to your baby's physician.

Community Resources for More Information:

Massachusetts Center for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Boston Medical Center, One Boston Medical Center Place, Boston, MA 02118
800-641-7437 (MA & RI) or 617-414-SIDS (7437)

    Program Description. Since 1975, the Massachusetts Center for SIDS has provided counseling and information to families throughout Massachusetts whose babies have died suddenly and unexpectedly to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and other causes of infant mortality, 0-3 years of age. Services include:
    • 24-hour crisis counseling.
    • Bereavement counseling for one year after death.
    • Training and educational programs for professionals and the general public.
    • Parent support group meetings - Springfield, Worcester, Boston.

Back to Sleep Campaign
PO Box 3006, Rockville, MD 20847
800-505-CRIB (2742)

SUID/SIDS Resource Center
2115 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 601, Washington, DC 20007

    Description: Providing resources to states, communities, professionals, and families to reduce sudden unexpected infant death (SUID)/Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and promote healthy outcomes.