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SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) - Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment



Quick Facts:

  1. The sudden and unexpected death of a child younger than a year is called sudden infant death syndrome.

  2. Such infants usually die in their sleep.

  3. Infants between 2 to 4 months are more prone to SIDS.

  4. The doctor will declare the death of the infant as SIDS if no other cause is identified.

  5. The risk of SIDS can be reduced by placing an infant to sleep on his or her back.

What Is SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)?

Sudden infant death syndrome, otherwise called SIDS, is the sudden and unexplained death of an otherwise healthy infant, generally during sleep. As most infants die in the crib during their sleep, it is also called crib death or cot death. It can be difficult to find the cause for SIDS. It is thought to be due to defects in the part of the infant’s brain that controls breathing and wakes up the body from sleep.

Doctors and researchers have identified some factors that might be increasing the risk of SIDS, and there are various measures that parents can try to protect their children from SIDS. The most important advice from doctors is to put the baby to sleep on his or her back.

SIDS is rare, but still the most common cause of death of infants under a year old in the US. Babies between the ages of 2 and 4 months are most commonly affected.

Does SIDS Result in Any Symptoms?

SIDS does not result in any symptoms. Babies who are sleeping die suddenly.

What Causes SIDS?

Researchers are yet to conclude the exact cause of SIDS. They believe a combination of the following factors might be responsible:

1) Physical Factors:

  • Brain Development - Most of these babies are born with some defects in the brain, which makes them more prone to die suddenly. The part of the brain that is responsible for breathing and sleep arousal do not mature enough.

  • Premature Birth - In babies born prematurely, the chances of the brain not developing completely increases. Such babies do not have proper control over breathing and heart rate.

  • Respiratory Infection - Breathing problems due to a cold or any other respiratory infection can lead to SIDS.

2) Environmental Factors:

  • Sleeping Position - Babies that are put to sleep on their stomach or side might find it more difficult to breathe.

  • Bed Sharing - Babies sleeping with their parents in their bed, or any other mattress that is not specially made for them increases the chances of injury, asphyxia, and strangulation.

  • Being too Warm - The risk increases if the baby is too warm while sleeping.

  • Blocked Airway - If a baby rolls over while sleeping on a soft surface like a comforter or soft mattress, it can block his or her airway.

  • Other Causes - Using an unsafe or old crib, using a very soft mattress, filling the crib with soft toys while the baby is sleeping, not using a pacifier, and not breastfeeding.

What Are the Risk Factors for SIDS?

Apart from the physical and environmental factors, the following factors also increase the risk of SIDS:

  1. Boy babies.

  2. Infants between 2 to 4 months of life. More than 80 % of babies that die of SIDS are under 6 months of age.

  3. Having siblings or cousins who died due to SIDS.

  4. Babies exposed to secondhand smoke.

  5. Babies with low birth weight.

  6. Sleep apnea (breathing stops in periods while sleeping).

Mothers can also increase the risk of their baby dying of SIDS. Mothers who:

  • Are younger than 20 years.

  • Smoke cigarettes.

  • Use drugs.

  • Drink alcohol.

  • Do not have proper prenatal care.

Try to avoid as many of these risks as possible.

How Does a Doctor Diagnose SIDS?

There is no specific test to determine that the infant died due to SIDS. The doctor rules out all possible causes of death before declaring the cause to be SIDS. The tests and investigations done by the doctor include:

  1. Examining the infant’s body after death.

  2. Examining the place where death occurred.

  3. Evaluating the symptoms that the baby had before death.

Is There Any Treatment for SIDS?

Sadly, there is no treatment for SIDS. As there are no symptoms or signs that can alert the parents before the sudden death, nothing can be done. But, there are various ways to reduce the risk.

What Can Be Done to Reduce the Risk of SIDS?

The following tips can possibly help reduce the risk of SIDS:

  1. Put Babies to Sleep on Their Back - Until they are 1 year old, babies should be put on their back for sleep. While they are awake, you can put them on their side or tummy, as it will make the baby grow stronger. But always keep a close eye on them.

  2. Prenatal Care - Get early and regular prenatal care. Pregnant women should follow a healthy diet and avoid drinking alcohol and smoking. This can help reduce the chances of premature birth and, in turn, reduce SIDS.

  3. Use a Firm Mattress - Always make your baby sleep on a firm bed with a tightly fitted sheet. Avoid using fluffy comforters. Never put soft toys or pillows in the crib.

  4. Breastfeeding - Breastfeed your baby at least for the first 6 months. Until suggested by your doctor, do not give your baby water, sugar, or formula milk.

  5. Pacifier - Give your baby a pacifier while sleeping.

  6. Avoid Overheating - The room temperature should not be too warm, and avoid over covering or overdressing your baby.

  7. Do Not Share a Bed - Infants should sleep in a separate crib, that is placed close to the parent’s bed. Never share a bed, especially if you take medicines or alcohol.

  8. Do Not Smoke Around Your Baby - Do not smoke when you are pregnant and let any person smoke near your baby. Secondhand smoke can be bad for the baby.

  9. Vaccination - Regular checkups and vaccinations to prevent infections can reduce the risk of SIDS.

  10. Avoid using baby monitors and other devices that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Coping With the Loss of Your Baby:

It is essential to get emotional support after losing a baby to SIDS. Most mothers feel guilty and grief. Talking to other parents who have lost their children to SIDS also helps. Communicate with your friends, family, or a counselor. Losing a child strains a relationship, so try to be open with your partner. Give yourself time to grieve.

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