Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: What Every Parent Needs to Know about SIDS

Other important facts you need to know

  • Boys are at greater risk for SIDS than girls.
  • More SIDS deaths occur in colder months.
  • Several studies have shown that breastfed babies are less likely to die from SIDS.
  • Several studies have demonstrated no association between receiving infant immunizations and SIDS.
  • SIDS is not caused by child abuse or neglect.
  • African-American infants are twice as likely to die of SIDS as white infants.
  • American Indian infants are nearly three times more likely to die of SIDS as white infants.

    Next Page: Find out what researchers believe causes SIDS and 13 things you can do to lower your baby's risk

What causes SIDS?

Although researchers are still trying to understand what causes SIDS, the following are some important clues:

  • Evidence suggests that some SIDS babies are born with brain abnormalities that make them vulnerable to sudden death during infancy. In many SIDS babies, abnormalities are found in parts of the brain stem that use serotonin as a neurotransmitter, and are thought to be involved in the control of breathing during sleep, sensing carbon dioxide and oxygen, and the ability to wake up. A baby with this abnormality may lack a protective brain mechanism that senses abnormal respiration or cardiovascular function and normally leads babies to wake up and take a breath.
  • Babies who sleep on their stomachs may get their faces caught in bedding, which causes them to breathe too much carbon dioxide and too little oxygen. Researchers are studying whether this is why sleeping on the stomach is hazardous and why babies with brain stem abnormality die when sleeping in this position.
  • A larger number of babies who died from SIDS apparently had respiratory or gastrointestinal infections prior to their deaths. This fact may explain why more SIDS cases occur during the colder months of the year.
  • Researchers indicate that some SIDS babies had higher-than-normal numbers of cells and proteins generated by the immune system. Some of these proteins interact with the brain to alter heart rate, slow breathing during sleep, or put the baby into a deep sleep, which may be strong enough to cause death, particularly if the baby has an underlying brain abnormality.
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