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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Condition Basics

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:

  • Premature.
  • 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: footnote 1, footnote 2

  • Put your baby on their back to sleep, every sleep.
  • Use a crib, cradle or bassinet with a firm, flat surface that is free of clutter.
  • Keep your baby warm, not hot.
  • Share a room with your baby. Room-sharing is recommended for the first 6 months.
  • Don’t share a bed, sofa or any other sleep surface with your baby. Sharing a bed or sleep surface with your baby has risks and is not recommended.
  • Keep spaces smoke-free before and after birth.
  • Breastfeed your baby.

For more information about SIDS, visit Safe Sleep for Baby's First Year.

There 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.

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 counsellor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. Many families benefit from group counselling 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.

References

Citations

  1. 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.
  2. Health Canada, Consumer Product Safety (2012). Is your child safe? Sleep time. Health Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pubs/cons/child-enfant/sleep-coucher-eng.php. Accessed October 14, 2015.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 1/24/2022

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

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