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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Toy blocks spelling out SIDSOctober is SIDS Awareness Month. Learn more about the problem and the risk factors and take action to reduce the risk. Start by always placing babies on their backs to sleep.

Understanding the Problem

About 4,000 infants die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the United States. These deaths are called sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID). Often an autopsy alone cannot explain these deaths without investigating the scene and reviewing the infant's medical history.

The most frequently reported causes of SUID include the following:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted that includes a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and a review of the medical history. SIDS is the third leading cause of infant death in the United States and the leading cause of death for infants aged 1 to 12 months. About half of SUIDs are SIDS.
  • Unknown Cause is the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained. Often a thorough investigation was not conducted and cause of death could not be determined.
  • Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB) is the leading cause of infant injury death. Mechanisms that can lead to accidental suffocation or strangulation include the following:
    • Suffocation by soft bedding—such as when a pillow or waterbed mattress covers an infant's nose and mouth.
    • Overlay—when another person rolls on top of or against the infant.
    • Wedging or entrapment—when an infant is wedged between two objects such as a mattress and wall, bed frame, or furniture.
    • 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.

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.

Always place babies on their backs to sleep for every sleep.

Reducing the Risk

Health care providers and researchers don't know the exact causes of SIDS, but they do know methods to help reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related SUID that include the following:

  • Always place babies on their backs to sleep for every sleep.
  • Use a firm sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet.
  • Have the baby share your room, not your bed. 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 such as pillows and loose bedding out of your baby's sleep area.
  • Prevent exposure to smoking during pregnancy and after birth because these are important risk factors for SIDS. The risk of SIDS is even stronger when a baby shares a bed with a smoker. To reduce risk, do not smoke during pregnancy, and do not smoke or allow smoking around your baby. For help in quitting, call the quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit Women.Smokefree.gov.

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

Learn more about safe sleep environments 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 2011 recommendations issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to reduce the risk of sleep-related infant deaths, including SIDS. Learn more at the Healthy Children website, sponsored by AAP.

Improving Reporting of SIDS and Other Sleep-Related SUID

CDC is committed to monitoring and reducing SIDS and other sleep-related SUID.

The SUID Case Registry
The SUID Case Registry is a surveillance system. The purpose of the registry is to track information about SUID at the state and local levels and improve the quality of currently available information. 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.

Data Improvement
Using the SUID Case Registry data, CDC and its partners can monitor trends, identify those at risk, and learn about effective risk reduction strategies. A better understanding of the circumstances and the cause can help reduce future deaths. CDC works to standardize and improve data collected at infant death scenes and promote consistent classification and reporting of SUID cases.

Training
CDC has developed the Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Investigation Reporting Form and conducted regional train-the-trainer classes 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.

Sudden Death in the Young Registry
CDC and the National Institutes of Health are working together to create the Sudden Death in the Young Registry. The registry is an expansion of the Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Case Registry that will collect comprehensive information on sudden unexpected deaths among young people aged 19 years or younger in the United States. For more information, see Frequently Asked Questions About the Sudden Death in the Young Registry.

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