SIDS in babies: Reasons, risk factors and prevention

In a mysterious incident, the six kids of a family in Tirur had died within a span of 9 years. The police have initiated a probe into these deaths after the sixth child, a 93 day old baby died last week. However, the doctor who treated the kids says that there is nothing suspicious about the deaths. The doctors assume that the kids may have died due to a rare condition called the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

SIDS is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby who is less than a year old. It is also known as crib death as the infants often die in their crib while sleeping. Though the real cause of this condition is unknown, it might be associated with the defects in the part of the baby’s brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep.

Even though there aren’t any 100% safe ways to prevent SIDS, there are measures to help protect your children from SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in 1992, had issued guidelines on ‘infant sleep position instruction and parental practice’. In 1994, the association began the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign as well. As per the reports, there has been a 60% drop in the SIDS rate after adopting such initiatives by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Compared to the 154.5% in 1990, the rate of SIDS have significantly dropped to just 39.4% in 2015.


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A combination of physical, genetic and sleep environmental factors can make an infant vulnerable to SIDS. However, these factors may be varied in each child.

Brain defects

The part of the brain that controls the breathing and arousal from sleep may not function properly in infants who are born with brain defects. In cases of low birth weight, pre mature birth or being part of a multiple birth, the babies’ brain isn’t likely to be matured completely. So, he/she has less control over automatic processes such as breathing or heart rates.

Respiratory infections too could be a reason for SIDS. It has been reported that most kids who died of SIDS had recently had a cold which may have led to breathing difficulties or respiratory infections.

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Sleep environmental factors

The objects in a baby’s crib and his/her sleeping position can combine with their physical problems to increase the risk of SIDS. For instance, a baby sleeping on the tummy or on his side may have trouble breathing. Lying face down on a fluffy cot, soft mattress or a waterbed could block the baby’s airway. Though it is said that it is safer if a baby sleeps in the same room as his/her parents, the risk increases if the baby sleeps on the same bed with the parents, siblings or pets. Being too warm or wrapping the baby in 3 – 4 blankets or comforters too could increase the risk of SIDS.

Risk factors

Infants | New born | Baby | Representational image
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Though any baby could be struck by SIDS, the researchers have identified the factors that increase the risk.

Studies reveal that boys are more likely to die of SIDS than girls. While considering the 5% more male population, for every 2 girls 3.15 boys die of SIDS. The fraction of the male SIDS cases is 0.61.

Infants are most vulnerable to SIDS from the time of birth up to four months. The babies whose siblings or cousins have died of SIDS are at higher risk of getting struck by SIDS.

Babies living with people who smoke too may die of SIDS. Premature babies have higher risk of SIDS.

The babies of mothers who are younger than 20 years, smoke cigarettes, use drugs or alcohol or had inadequate prenatal care are at high risk of SIDS.


There are no 100% safer ways to prevent SIDS. However, here are some instructions that could help your babies sleep better in safe conditions.

Do not let your baby sleep on his/her tummy or on their side. Let the baby sleep with the parents at least for the first year. Try to use cribs as less as possible. Do not use fluffier cots or soft mattresses in the baby’s crib. It is safer to use a firm mattress.

Baby’s airway may get blocked if he /she sleep face down on a softer pillow or even a soft toy. This may cause breathing difficulties or the air that is inhaled could be contaminated with more CO2 particles.

Adult beds aren’t safe for babies. The baby could get trapped and suffocate between the headboard slats, the space between the mattress and the bed frame or the gap between the mattress and the wall. The child could get suffocated if a parent, in their sleep, accidently rolls over and cover the baby’s mouth and nose.

The baby could get suffocated if the mother breastfeeds the child while lying down. Meanwhile, the chances of SIDS get lower if the baby is breastfed for at least 6 months.

Do not use any baby monitors or other commercial products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of baby monitors or similar devices because of its ineffectiveness. They also point out safety issues with such devices.

Some studies suggest that immunizing the baby may lower the risk of SIDS. So, the parents should make sure that their babies are vaccinated at the right time. Compared with the babies who have no immunity, the chances of SIDS are 50% less in babies who are immunized.

Do not smoke cigarettes when there is a baby nearby.

You could offer a pacifier for the baby if the conditions safer.

Do not feed honey to infants who are less than a year old. Honey could cause a condition called botulism in babies. Botulism and the bacteria causing it may be associated with SIDS. Do not hesitate to consult a doctor or contact the health officials if the baby displays any discomfort or illness. 

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