SIDS: Separating Facts from Myths


October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome awareness month -- do your patients know the facts about SIDS?

In recognition of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) awareness month, we’ve compiled resources from several reliable sites—including the Sleep Foundation—providing important information on SIDS, and help differentiate common myths from fact.


  • SIDS is the unexpected, sudden death of an infant under one year of age that remains unexplained even after an autopsy and thorough medical investigation.
  • It is the leading cause of death in children between one month and one year of age, and in most cases the infant was believed to be healthy immediately before the death.
  • The risk for SIDS peaks between 2 and 3 months of age, and it occurs more often in male infants than in females.
  • African American children are two to three times more likely than Caucasian children to die of SIDS, and Native American infants are three times more likely than Caucasians to succumb to SIDS. The annual incidence of SIDS has declined since 1992, a finding often attributed to the Back to Sleep Campaign.

While the cause of SIDS has not yet been discovered, some common factors that contribute to an increased risk have been identified. They include:

  • Infant sleeping in the prone position
  • Used of soft bedding or unsafe beds (couches, daybeds, waterbeds)
  • Use of loose bedding materials such as blankets and pillows
  • Overheating due to clothing, blankets or room temperature
  • Mother’s age younger than 20 years
  • Mother smoking during pregnancy
  • Mother receiving late or no prenatal care
  • Premature birth or low birth weight
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke

Research suggests that SIDS occurs when an infant’s body has difficulty regulating breathing, cardiovascular functions, and/or body temperature because of an underlying developmental delay or problem in parts of the brain controlling those activities. Experts believe that while these developmental defects or delays alone may not cause SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome may occur when these vulnerabilities combine with other events, such as difficulty breathing due to an infection, decreased oxygen intake resulting from bedding that covers the infants face.

Myths about SIDS:

  • Immunizations cause SIDS
  • Infants are at a greater risk for choking when sleeping on their backs
  • Side sleeping is just as safe as back sleeping
  • It is never safe for an infant to be placed on his or her stomach
  • Sleeping on the back is unhealthy because it causes flattening of the back of the head
  • Although there is no treatment for SIDS, there are steps that can be taken to lower the risks. Starting during pregnancy, mothers can reduce their children’s risk of SIDS through frequent medical check-ups, proper nutrition, and avoiding tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants sleep in a crib, bassinet or cradle in the same room as the parent. Commercial devices marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS should be avoided, since they have not been sufficiently tested for safety and effectiveness. The AAP also cautions that home monitors should not be considered an effective strategy to reduce the risk of SIDS. While electronic respiratory and cardiac monitors may be used for infants deemed to have extreme cardiorespiratory instability or who have had an apparent life-threatening event involving apnea or other breathing difficulty, there is no evidence that using a home monitor reduces the incidence of SIDS.

For more information:

  • Parents Urged Not to Use Infant Sleep Positioners
  • Greene County, MO sees uptick in SIDS cases
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
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