Sudden infant death syndrome, also known as SIDS or crib death, is when a baby 12 months or younger unexpectedly dies during his or her sleep with no known warning signs or a clear reason. Although a single, direct cause for SIDS is unknown, a combination of physical and environmental factors may make an infant more susceptible to SIDS. These factors may vary from child to child.
Physical factors associated with SIDS include brain abnormalities, low birth weight and respiratory illness. If the portion of an infant’s brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep isn’t functioning properly, he or she may be at an increased risk for SIDS. Premature birth or being a multiple, such as a twin or triplet, increases the likelihood that a baby’s brain hasn’t matured completely, allowing him or her to have less control over automatic processes such as breathing and heart rate. In addition, if your baby has recently had a cold or other respiratory illness, his or her risk for SIDS is heightened. Be sure to monitor your child and their breathing more frequently while he or she is recovering from illness and shortly afterwards.
Your baby’s risk for SIDS is much higher any time he or she sleeps on their side or stomach. These positions may potentially place your baby’s face in the mattress or sleeping area, which may smother them. Be sure to always place your baby on his or her back when laying them down to sleep. It is also important to inform any relatives, friends or child care workers that may look after your baby of the importance of your baby sleeping on his or her back. If you’re worried your baby might choke while sleeping on his or her back, don’t be. Choking is extremely rare and healthy babies typically swallow or cough up fluids automatically. If you’re concerned, talk to your pediatrician about elevating your baby’s head while they sleep.
While the risk of SIDS is lowered if an infant sleeps in the same room as his or her parent, the risk increases if the baby sleeps in the same bed due to there being more soft surfaces such as pillows and comforters that may impair breathing. Similarly, the items in a baby’s crib and his or her sleeping position can contribute to the increase of the risk for SIDS. Avoid placing fluffy blankets in your child’s crib or having them sleep on waterbeds. An infant’s airway may become blocked by these items, potentially causing SIDS. Draping a blanket over a baby’s head is also risky and should be avoided.
Although SIDS can strike any infant, research indicates that boys are more likely to die of SIDS and infants are most vulnerable during the second and third months of life. Babies who have had siblings or cousins die of SIDS are at a higher risk for developing it as well, along with babies who live with smokers. During pregnancy, the risk of SIDS is affected by the mother, especially if she is younger than 20 years of age, smokes cigarettes, uses drugs or alcohol, or has had inadequate prenatal care. If you know that you are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider as soon as possible. If you do not have a primary care provider, please call 317-880-8687.
Nydia Nunez-Estrada, M.D.
Eskenazi Health Urgent Care East