What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?
April 09, 2021 | Sara Shoukat Ali

What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) also known as cot or crib death is an unexplained and mysterious disorder present in infants less than one year. It is unexpected and sudden death during sleeping hours of healthy infants. Mostly infants die during midnight hours without having any sign and symptom. It has been observed that 90% of them die before 6 months. Numbers of researches are present which could not explain the exact cause of death in SIDS infants. No suitable treatment and vaccine are available. It can only be prevented by following precautionary measures.

The two major attributions can be adopted to reduce the risk of SIDS; breastfeeding and use of pacifier. United States and United Kingdom have high risk of SIDS due to poor breast feeding. This postneonatal infant disorder is still third driving reason of baby mortality in United States. Pakistan is also at high risk of SIDS due to high poverty rate. Before the infant die due to SIDS all other potential reasons for death must be researched.

What are the causes of SIDS?

No exact reason can be explained but some of the risk factors are suggested by researchers which are discussed and vary child to child.

·       Stomach sleeping: SIDS is most likely present in babies who sleep on their stomach rather than those who sleep on their back. It is believed that stomach sleeping results in difficult breathing so, risk of SIDS becomes higher in them.

·       Sleeping on soft surface: During sleeping infants who lye their faces down to fluffy surface or with blanket or pillows or with stuff toys may have difficulty in breathing.

·       Sharing bed: The risk of SIDS is higher in first three months of infants who share their bed with parents, some of sibling or anyone.

·       Physical factors: some of the physical factors can be possibly become reason of SIDS.

o   Brain defect in some infants may be the cause of SIDS. In SIDS infant’s portion of brain does not develop properly that controls breathing and sleep-awakening activities.

o   Respiratory infection may be results in SIDS because infection cause breathing problems

o   Untimely birth or being a part of a various birth results in premature brain due to this breathing and heart rate cannot be controlled properly.

o   Being overheated may be another reason of SIDS.

 ·       Being passive smoker: infants become passive smoker of their mother or father or both have increasing risk of being SIDS sufferers. Because smoking make them to breath with difficulty.

 ·       Genetics: It cannot be said with clarity but most of the researchers have been observed the chances of SIDS become higher in those infants whom cousins have affected by this.

 ·       Gender: It has been noted that SIDS chances are high in male infants than in female infants

 ·       Maternal risk factors:  In some cases, some mothers are become reason of their infants being affected.

o   Mothers who got pregnant in early twenties have risk of having SIDS infant

o   Those mothers who are addict of  drugs or alcohol or using cigarettes  

o   Prenatal care have not be given to mothers before delivery

o   Avoid breast feeding and prefer bottle feeding in early months after delivery


This model has been proposed to explain about the most possible causes of SIDS in infants.

 ·       Infants with their abnormal brainstem are not able to respond properly to low oxygen level and high carbon dioxide level in blood.

  ·       Infants who use to sleep on face down to stomach or belly

 ·       Any of these event may happen during early 6 months that vulnerable period to infants

How can SIDS infants be diagnosed?

We cannot clearly tell the real cause but if other causes have been excluded then most possible cause of SIDS may be diagnosed by

·       Doing scene investigation

·       Doing autopsy

·       Taking review of clinical history

How SIDS can be prevented in infants?

No real cause of SIDS has been investigated but some possible precautions can be adopted to lower the risk of SIDS

 ·       Sleep on back: it is necessary to prevent your infant underlying sleep or sleep on stomach. Place your infant on back for sleeping especially first 6 to 8 months. This posture makes your infant to breath with comfort.

 ·       Avoid fluffy material:  Don’t leave your infant with fluffy material i.e. blanket, pillow, quilt, lambskin or stuff toys. This stuff may interfere with your infants breathing and results can be vulnerable. Try to use firm matters in crib or cot

 ·       Avoid overheating:  Don’t use extra clothes to cover your infant and try not to cover your infant head if not necessary. Try sleep sack or other sleep clothing which don’t require another clothe

 ·       Sleep in crib or cot: try to sleep your infant in crib or cot because sharing bed with adults may cause problem. Your infant may suffocate due to trap in space between mattress and bed frame or space between matters and wall or any of the parent  may roll over to the infant accidentally and cover his/her mouth or nose. 

 ·       Offer pacifier: Using of pacifiers during nap time or bedtime may reduce the chances of SIDS among your infants. Pacifiers should be offer when your baby becomes 3 to 4 weeks old so that you will be able to set his/her nursing routine properly. It’s better to wait for a month if your baby is on breast feeding.

·       Other precautions

o   Breastfeeding specially for first one year reduce the risk of SIDS

o   Avoid alcohol, drugs and smoking. If you are sharing your bed with baby strictly cut off smoking.

o   Properly immunize your baby. In some studies it has been discussed that 50% chances of SIDS reduce among properly immunized babies.

o   Avoid home monitors or any devices that are not safe and effective for your babies.

Death of SIDS infants is really tragic for whole family. Some children hospitals are available that have resources and support sufferers. Some general practioners and health visitors give advice and do counseling to parents and family.

Sara Shoukat Ali

MS in molecular biology & currently working in Queen Mary College as a lecturer