Sometimes a baby who seems healthy dies during sleep. This is 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.
Although SIDS is rare, it is
one of the most common causes of death in babies between 1 and 12 months of
age. Most babies who die of SIDS are between the ages of 2 and 4 months.
Doctors don't know what causes
SIDS. It seems to happen more often in
premature and low-birth-weight babies. It also is seen
more often in babies whose mothers didn't get medical care during the
pregnancy and in babies whose mothers smoke. SIDS may also be more likely in
babies who were part of a multiple pregnancy (for example, twins or triplets)
or whose mothers are younger than 20.
When babies sleep on their
bellies, they may not breathe well. Not too long ago, side sleeping was said to
be okay. But babies placed on their sides can easily roll onto their bellies
and could have trouble breathing.
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. More research on this is needed.
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.
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
Doing certain things may help protect a
baby from SIDS and/or other deaths related to sleep:1
is no sure way to prevent SIDS, and no examination 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 Public Health Agency of Canada and other experts do 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.
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:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Learning about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS):
When SIDS occurs:
The Caring for Kids website was developed by the Canadian Paediatric
Society and provides parents with information about child health and well-being.
Public Health Agency of Canada, et al. (2011). Joint Statement on Safe Sleep: Preventing Sudden Infant Deaths in Canada. Available online: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/dca-dea/stages-etapes/childhood-enfance_0-2/sids/pdf/jsss-ecss2011-eng.pdf.
Other Works Consulted
Leduc C, et al. (2004, reaffirmed 2013). Recommendations for safe sleeping environments for infants and children. Paediatrics and Child Health, 9(9): 659–663. Also available online: http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/safe-sleep-environments-infants-children.
Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee (2008). ABM clinical protocol #6: Guideline on co-sleeping and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Medicine, 3(1): 38–43.
Corwin MJ (2011). Apparent life-threatening events and SIDS. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 451–454. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Federico MJ, et al. (2012). Respiratory tract and mediastinum. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 21st ed., pp. 510–560. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hauck FR, Tanabe KO (2009). SIDS, search date April 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Hunt CE, Hauck FR (2011). Sudden infant death syndrome. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 1421–1429. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Hymel KP and the Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect,
American Academy of Pediatrics (2006, reaffirmed 2010). Clinical report: Distinguishing sudden
infant death syndrome from child abuse fatalities. Pediatrics, 118(1): 421–427.
Kline A, Gibson E (2006). Sudden infant death syndrome. In FD Burg et al., eds., Current Pediatric Therapy, 18th ed., pp. 258–260. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
November 8, 2013
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
& Thomas M. Bailey, MD - Family Medicine & Chuck Norlin, MD - Pediatrics
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