Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year. Most SIDS deaths occur in babies who are between 2 and 4 months old. In the United States, approximately 4500 infants die each year of SIDS. This Patient Page is based on one published in the December 4, 2002, issue of JAMA.
Although more research is needed, it is currently believed that SIDS results when a baby's body has difficulty regulating blood pressure, breathing, or temperature (or a combination of these things) because of an underlying vulnerability or developmental problem. When stressed by outside factors, including being put to sleep on their stomach, these babies can die of SIDS.
One thing parents can do to help prevent SIDS is to put babies to sleep on their back, not stomach. This helps babies breathe more easily and may prevent them from breathing their own exhaled air, which can collect under the baby's nose, especially if the baby is snuggling with a blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal. Babies should sleep in a room that is adequately warm (but not too hot).
Always place babies “back to sleep” (sleeping on back rather than stomach)
Place babies on firm (not soft) bedding
Keep pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals out of the crib
Prevent babies from getting too hot
Do not expose pregnant women or babies to cigarette smoke
Do not allow babies to sleep with parents in parents' beds or on couches
Babies should never be put to sleep on adult furniture, such as sofas or beds, because they can become trapped in crevices or corners or under bedsheets and suffocate. Parents often worry that babies' heads will become flat in the back, but this can be prevented by giving babies “tummy time” while they are awake and being watched by a caregiver.
American Academy of Pediatrics HealthyChildren www.healthychildren.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov/parents
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page Index on JAMA's website at www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics
Topic: CHILD HEALTH
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.
Sharon Parmet, Alison E. Burke, Robert M. Golub. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. JAMA. 2012;307(16):1766. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.473