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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Understanding the Problem

About 4,000 infants die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the United States—half are due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).1 It can be difficult to distinguish SIDS from other sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) such as accidental suffocation. Often autopsy alone cannot explain these infant deaths without investigation of the scene and a review of the medical history. The most frequently reported causes are—

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)—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 a review of the clinical history. SIDS is the leading cause of infant death from 1–12 months old.
  • Ill Defined and Unknown Cause of Mortality—the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained as a thorough investigation was not conducted and cause of death could not be determined.
  • Safe to Sleep

    CDC is collaborating with the National Institutes of Health in its Safe to Sleep campaign, formerly known as the Back to Sleep Campaign. The Safe to Sleep Campaign has outreach and education activities aimed at reducing infant death from SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths.

  • Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB)—the leading cause of infant injury death. Several possible mechanisms can cause sleep-related suffocation by obstructing an infant's airway. These are:
    1. Suffocation by soft bedding—such as a pillow or waterbed mattress.
    2. Overlay—another person overlaying or rolling on top of or against the infant.
    3. Wedging or entrapment—wedging between two objects such as a mattress and wall, bed frame, or furniture.
    4. Strangulation—such as when an infant's head and neck become caught between crib railings.

Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native infants are about two times more likely to die of SIDS and other sleep-related SUID than white infants.2

Reducing the Risk

Photo: Mother holding infantHealth care providers and researchers don't know the exact causes of SIDS, but they do know certain things you can do to help reduce the risk of SIDS or other sleep-related SUID, such as—

  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night.
  • Use a firm sleep surface covered by a fitted sheet. See crib safety information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission for more information.
  • Your baby should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else.
  • Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of your baby's sleep area.
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy, and do not smoke or allow smoking around your baby.
  • Breastfeed your baby.
  • Give your baby a dry pacifier that is not attached to a string for naps and at night.
  • Do not let your baby get too hot during sleep.

For more detailed information on reducing the risk of SIDS, visit the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Web site.

CDC is collaborating with the National Institutes of Health in its Safe to Sleep campaign, formerly known as the Back to Sleep Campaign. The Safe to Sleep Campaign has outreach and education activities aimed at reducing infant death from SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths.

Learn more about safe sleep environment and reducing the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths, by reading the NICHD publication What Does a Safe Sleep Environment Look Like? [PDF - 336KB].
 

In addition, CDC supports the most recent recommendations issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). These recommendations aim to reduce the risk of sleep-related infant deaths, including SIDS. See the AAP Web site for more information.

Improving Reporting of SIDS and Other Sleep-Related SUID

CDC is committed to monitoring and ultimately reducing SIDS and other sleep-related SUID. A better understanding of the circumstances and the cause can help reduce future deaths. Our efforts aim to standardize and improve data collected at infant death scenes and promote consistent classification and reporting of SUID cases. We have updated the Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Investigation Reporting Form and conducted regional train-the-trainer academies that taught state teams how to conduct comprehensive infant death investigations. CDC is also working with the Navajo nation to improve infant death scene investigations.

In addition, CDC and our partners developed the SUID Case Registry. The purpose of the registry is to track information about SUID at the state and local levels that is more detailed than what is currently available. Instead of creating an entirely new system, the SUID Case Registry enhances the National Center for Child Death Review program and their Case Reporting System.

The SUID Case Registry was designed to reduce SUID by using improved data to monitor trends, identify those at risk, and learn about effective risk reduction strategies.

Learn more about SUID and SIDS from CDC's Division of Reproductive Health.

  1. CDC. CDC WONDER Web site. http://wonder.cdc.gov/. Accessed September 17, 2013.
  2. Mathews TJ, MacDorman MF. Infant mortality statistics from the 2009 period linked birth/infant death data set. National Vital Statistics Reports; 2013; 61(8).
 

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  • Page last reviewed: October 25, 2013
  • Page last updated: October 25, 2013
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