Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is by far one of the most ominous and ambiguous conditions experts struggle to address. As the leading cause of death among infants under a year old, thousands die each year to SIDS, and experts cannot conclusively explain why (1). While the condition is worrying to any new parent, here are four questions that address the core issue of SIDS.

1. What is SIDS?

SIDS, by definition, is a condition that results in unexplained death of a child under the age of one year. In these cases, there is no other identifiable cause of death, even after performing an autopsy and taking the infant’s clinical history into consideration
(2). SIDS is, in essence, the explanation for an infant’s death when none exists.

2. What Causes SIDS?

While there is no widely accepted explanation of SIDS, medical experts have theorized the root causes. Many experts believe SIDS to be a result of a baby’s immature or abnormal functioning of the heart or breathing compounded by stressors like soft bedding or sleeping stomach-down during their first year of life (which could explain why the majority of SIDS cases occur during sleep, between the hours of 10 at night and 10 in the morning). A study published in February 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that infants who died from SIDS had lower levels of serotonin in the brain, an important chemical regulator of breathing, blood pressure and heart rate during sleep (3).

Other explanations include a baby’s ability to wake up—also called sleep arousal—and the inability of a baby’s body to detect the buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream .

The short answer is that we don’t know for sure what causes SIDS, but there remain promising theories that could one day lead to a conclusive answer.

3. What Can I Do to Reduce the Chance of SIDS?

Fortunately, since doctors began recommending babies be put on their back to sleep, the rate of SIDS in the United States has decreased by more than 50 percent (1). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following: always put a baby to sleep on its back, put babies on a firm surface to sleep, let babies sleep in the same room (but NOT the same bed) as their parents, avoid soft bedding materials (like pillows, comforters and quilts), make sure the room temperature is not too hot, offer the baby a dry, clean pacifier when going to sleep and do not use breathing monitors or products marketed as ways to reduce SIDS (research has proven these devices to be ineffective) .

4. How Should I Respond to SIDS?

First and foremost, if parents see their baby is not moving or breathing, they should begin CPR and call police or medical authorities immediately. Parents and caregivers of children should be trained in CPR to invest in the future wellbeing of their children in an emergency.

If parents, family members or close friends lose a child to SIDS, they can contact the National Foundation for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome to gain helpful counseling resources and assist those affected by the event. SIDS is a sudden and devastating event in the lives of those around a baby. Guilt is usually a common feeling when dealing with SIDS cases, and families should remember to stay informed and look into counseling resources to move forward peacefully.

This article contributed by HHP Staff Writer, Joseph McAdams.

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