Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. Approximately 3500 infants in the United States die each year suddenly from sleep-related deaths, including SIDS. Although often there is no identified cause of these tragic and unexpected deaths, there are precautions we can take to help keep our babies safe.
What is SIDS? Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) describes the unexpected death of an infant less than 1 year of age. A subset of these deaths are unexplained after further investigation and are subsequently classified as SIDS. In the United States, SIDS occurs in approximately 1 in 1000 live births.
Who is at risk? All infants less than one year of age are at risk for SIDS. What’s more, African American and Native American/Alaskan children are at even greater risk, approximately 2-3 times higher risk than the average infant in the United States. For African American families there were 181 deaths for non-Hispanic Blacks per 100,000 live births in 2013-2016, compared to 52 for Hispanics and 85 for non-Hispanic Whites. For our pregnant mothers, factors that increase the likelihood of SIDS include young maternal age, maternal smoking, and a lack of prenatal care (delayed care, or a lack of access to prenatal care). Risk factors for SIDS include infants born premature or small for gestational age/low birth weight, infants sleeping on their stomachs, sleeping on a inclined surface (not flat), sleeping on a soft surface with loose blankets, crib bumpers, and pillows, and co-sleeping (infants sharing a bed with their parents).
What efforts have we made to protect infants from SIDS? Sleep position is one of the most important and modifiable risk factors that can help to protect our children from SIDS. The Back to Sleep campaign (now better known as the Safe to Sleep campaign) was started to promote safe sleep for infants. This campaign is focused on educating families about safe sleep habits. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all infants be placed on their backs for sleep. As a result of this recommendation, the incidence of SIDS decreased by 50%.
What can you do?
Stay updated on safe sleep guidelines and inform your baby care team (babysitters, partners, grandparents, etc.). Brochures and printouts are available here: https://safetosleep.nichd.nih.gov/ A specific kit for African American families is available here: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/documents/SIDS_resourcekit_rev.pdf