SIDS / Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a medical term that describes the sudden death of an otherwise healthy infant which remains unexplained after all known and possible causes have been carefully ruled out through autopsy, death scene investigation, and review of the medical history. There appears to be no suffering in most cases; death occurs very rapidly, usually during sleep. SIDS is the leading killer of infants between one week and one year with an approximate rate of two per thousand live births (1 in 500). 6000-7000 babies die of SIDS every year in the US.

It appears likely that SIDS may be caused by some subtle developmental delay, an anatomical defect or functional failure. SIDS, like other medical disorders, may eventually have more than one explanation and more than one means of prevention. This may explain why the characteristics of SIDS babies seem so varied. While there are still no adequate medical explanations for SIDS deaths, current theories include: (1) stress in a normal baby, caused by infection or other factors; (2) a birth defect; (3) failure to develop; and/or (4) a critical period when all babies are especially vulnerable, such as a time of rapid growth.

Currently, SIDS cannot be predicted or prevented, even by a physician. But, some recent studies have begun to isolate several risk factors which, though not causes of SIDS in and of themselves, may play a role in some cases. In some cases, the elimination of a risk factor can alter the outcome, influencing the baby's ability to survive.

SIDS is not anyone's fault. SIDS happens to parents of all economic, social, educational, and racial groups.

Here are some tips to possibly reduce SIDS risks:

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,