What Is SIDS?

Dozens of pregnancy and baby books warned us about potential hazards to our coming baby. While most of the life-threatening conditions are out of our immediate control, there is one threat which terrifies us. Any discussion of dangers to a new baby always mentions the threat of SIDS.

What is SIDS?

SIDS is the acronym for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, formally defined by the Centers for Disease Control as:

“the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted, including a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history.”

The unfortunate answer to the question — what is sids — is that even medical experts still do not know. The CDC describes SIDS as the third leading cause of death among babies and the leading cause of death for infants between one month and one year old. SIDS is referred to as a “diagnosis of exclusion” because it is only used when all other causes of death are eliminated. SIDS is currently classified as a specific sub-category of Sudden Unexplained Infant Deaths (SUID) and is rendered as a cause of death only after an examination of both the death scene and infant medical history.

SIDS is particularly insidious because it results in the sudden death of an otherwise healthy baby with no apparent explanation. Eight of the ten leading causes of infant mortality in the United States afflict newborns (<1 month) leaving SIDS and unintentional injuries as the leading causes of death for healthy infants.

Risk Factors For SIDS

The Mayo Clinic summarizes eight major risk factors for SIDS

1) Gender
Boys are more likely to die of SIDS than girls.

2) Age
Babies are most likely to die of SIDS during months two and three.

3) Race
African-American, American Indian, and Eskimo babies are more likely to die of SIDS

4) Family History
Babies born into families where other infants have died of SIDS are more likely to die of SIDS

5) Maternal Age
Teenage mothers are more likely to have babies die of SIDS

6) Household Smoking
Babies who are exposed to smoke are more likely to die of SIDS. Maternal smoking is an even greater risk factor.

7) Maternal Drug or Alcohol Use
Mothers who use illegal drugs or consume alcohol are more likely to have babies die of SIDS

8) Lack of Prenatal Care
Mothers who do not receive proper prenatal care are more likely to have babies die of SIDS

Reducing the Risk of SIDS

The American Academy of Pediatrics releases current guidelines for reducing the risk of SIDS at their free information website HealthyChildren.org. The current recommendations are:

Back to Sleep
Always place babies to sleep on their backs.

Firm Surface
Always place babies to sleep on a firm surface.

Clean Cribs
Remove blankets, pillows, bumper pads, stuffed animals, and other soft or loose objects from the crib and any other sleeping location.

Same Room Not Same Bed
Place babies to sleep in a crib in the same room as the parents bed, but do not let babies sleep in their parents bed.

Breastfeed
Breastfed babies are less likely to die of SIDS

Go to the Pediatrician
Babies who complete their full well-child visits are less likely to die of SIDS

Regulate Temperature
Keep babies’ rooms well controlled at a comfortable temperature. Babies who are too hot are at risk for SIDS

Use a Pacifier
Babies who sleep with a pacifier are less likely to die of SIDS

Avoid Anti-SIDS Products
No commercial products have been shown to reduce the incidence of SIDS and some products have resulted in the death of babies.

Both my wife and I will follow every guideline suggested by the AAP and the Mayo Clinic to attempt to protect our forthcoming daughter from SIDS. But even as we do everything within our control, the threat of losing our baby to an unknown killer is frightening.