Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
What is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?
Sometimes a baby who seems healthy dies during sleep. If this happens to a healthy baby younger than 1 year old, it's 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.
What causes it?
Doctors don't know what causes SIDS, but 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.
There are some factors that may increase the risk of SIDS.
If during pregnancy, the mother:
- Is younger than 20 years old.
- Smokes or vapes.
- Use drugs or alcohol.
- Has not had prenatal care.
If the baby is:
- Part of a multiple pregnancy (for example, a twin or triplet).
- Put down to bed on their stomach or side.
- In a bed on a soft surface or with loose blankets or pillows.
- Sharing a bed with parents, siblings, or pets.
- Dressed too warmly or in a very warm room.
What are the symptoms?
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.
How is it diagnosed?
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 autopsy.
How can you reduce the risk of SIDS?
Doing certain things may help protect a baby from SIDS and/or other deaths related to sleep:
- The most important thing you can do is to always place your baby to sleep on their back rather than on the stomach or side.
- Don't use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs while you are pregnant. And don't expose your baby to secondhand smoke during or after your pregnancy.
- For the first 6 months, have your baby sleep in a crib, cradle, or bassinet in the same room where you sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you don't ever sleep with your baby in the same bed.
- Never sleep with a baby on a couch or armchair. And it is not safe to place your baby on a couch to sleep. It is not safe to place your baby in a car seat, sling, swing, bouncer, or stroller to sleep. The safest place for a baby is in a crib, cradle, or bassinet that meets safety standards.
- Keep soft items and loose bedding out of the crib. Items such as blankets, stuffed animals, toys, and pillows could suffocate or trap your baby. Dress your baby in sleepers instead of using blankets.
- Make sure that your baby's crib has a firm mattress (with a fitted sheet). Don't use sleep positioners, bumper pads, or other products that attach to crib slats or sides. They could suffocate or trap your baby.
- Keep the room at a comfortable temperature so that your baby can sleep in lightweight clothes without a blanket. Usually, the temperature is about right if an adult can wear a long-sleeved T-shirt and pants without feeling cold. Make sure that your baby doesn't get too warm. Your baby is likely too warm if they sweat or toss and turn a lot.
- Breastfeed your baby and have your baby immunized.
- Consider giving your baby a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. This may help prevent SIDS, though experts don't know why. If you breastfeed, wait until your baby is about a month old before you offer a pacifier.
There 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.
How can a family cope after losing a baby to SIDS?
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:
- Join a grief support group. Ask your doctor if one for parents who have lost babies to SIDS is available in your area.
- Get help from a counselor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. Many families benefit from group counseling to help them deal with the tensions that arise after the loss of a baby.
- Talk with a close family member, a friend, or a spiritual adviser.
Current as of: September 20, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.