5 SIDS Risk Factors You Should Know

How to avoid risk factors of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.


Every year several thousand babies unexpectedly die in their sleep, the cause of death unknown. These deaths are the result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, a condition that doctors have yet to explain.

While the nation’s top researchers have worked persistently to better understand SIDS, doctors have not yet determined an exact cause or a way to prevent this silent killer. However, they have clearly identified a number of factors that stand out in a high percentage of SIDS deaths.

While there’s no proven way to prevent SIDS, experts like those with the American Academy of Pediatrics say avoiding certain behaviors can help lower your baby’s risk. Here are five of the most prominent SIDS risk factors every parent should know about and how to avoid them.

1. Stomach Sleeping

Your baby’s sleeping position is by far the biggest SIDS risk factor. In its “Task Force on Infant Sleep Position and SIDS,” the AAP found that babies sleeping on their stomachs were as much as 12 times more likely to be affected by SIDS than those sleeping on their backs.

In 1994, the US government launched the “Back to Sleep” to help educate parents about sleep position and SIDS. The results were dramatic, reducing the rate of unexpected infant deaths by half. What’s more, studies across the world have shown that placing babies to sleep on their backs greatly reduces the incidence of SIDS.

The takeaway: Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep.

2. Co-Sleeping

As a new parent, may get well-meaning advice on the benefits of co-sleeping to help your baby sleep through the night. The numbers don’t lie, though, and they show co-sleeping can be a dangerous risk factor for SIDS.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that over the course of eight years, nearly 75 percent of deaths in babies younger than 4 months older occurred in a bed-sharing situation.

Not all of these deaths were SIDS cases; some were cases of accidental smothering or the baby becoming trapped between the mattress and the wall. No matter what the cause of death, the numbers make it clear: co-sleeping is a risk to your baby.

The takeaway: Don’t sleep in the same bed with your baby. If you want your baby nearby at bedtime, place the crib in your bedroom or use a side-sleeper bassinette that gives baby his or her own sleep surface.

3. Items in the Crib

While they may seem comforting, soft blankets, pillows and items like stuffed animals can actually pose a danger to your baby.

Bedding and other loose objects can become positioned over a baby’s head, and infants under one may not have developed the reflexes to free themselves if they’re lacking oxygen. Doctors believe this may play a contributing role in SIDS.

The AAP and the Centers for Disease Control have both taken a position against products like sleep positioners, which can also pose a suffocation risk.

The takeaway: The only things in the crib with your baby should be a firm mattress and a fitted sheet.

4. Smoking

According to the CDC, smoking during pregnancy increases a baby’s risk of SIDS, as does exposing a baby to secondhand smoke after giving birth. Chemicals from secondhand smoke are believed to affect babies’ brains in a way that disturbs the regulation of their breathing.

Additionally, the National Institutes of Health reports that doctors found higher levels of nicotine and cotinine in the lungs of babies who died of SIDS than infants that passed away as a result of other causes.

Even if you smoke outside, secondhand smoke can be transferred to your baby on your skin, clothes and hair. So, doctors say the best thing you can do for your baby’s well being is quit smoking altogether.

The takeaway: Don’t smoke while pregnant, and never smoke around your baby. If you smoke, take steps to quit.

5. Overheating

Babies should be dressed appropriately for the weather and season, but should not be placed to sleep wearing heavy clothing or blankets.

According to the Safe to Sleep Campaign, a high body temperature is associated with a deeper sleep that is more difficult for a baby to wake from. What’s more, past SIDS numbers have shown a spike in the colder months, when babies are more likely to be overdressed.

Again, doctors aren’t sure exactly what role temperature plays in SIDS, but they advise babies should always be placed to sleep in the lightest clothing appropriate for the temperature.

The takeaway: Don’t place your baby to sleep in bulking clothing or under heavy blankets.

SafeSleep by MonBaby is a resource dedicated to educating new parents about safe infant sleep practices. MonBaby is a wearable breathing and rollover monitor that sends alerts about your baby to your smartphone. Visit SafeSleep.MonBaby.com.

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