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A Safe-Sleep Expert Looks at What Causes SIDS

Posted by: Amber Published on: October 3, 2017 ,

What causes SIDS
Pip & Grow Chief Innovation Officer and Child Safety Expert Amber Kroeker examines some of the risk factors behind Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The mere mention of SIDS is enough to strike terror in the heart of any new parent. What is SIDS? What Causes SIDS? How can you protect your little one from SIDS? We are going to get a little science-y here, so bear with us.

Defining SIDS

SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, it is one of the three types of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID). The other two types are accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed (ASSB) and Unknown Cause. Experts lump these thee together and call them “sleep related infant deaths” since all of these deaths occur during sleep. Sometimes you will hear all of these sleep related deaths called SIDS, but that isn’t exactly accurate. Below, you’ll see why.

Many parents want to know- “What is SIDS?” or “What causes SIDS?” The answer is complicated. Scientists do not yet know exactly what causes SIDS. Through research, we have learned that some babies who died suddenly and unexpectedly actually had a ‘reason’ for the death. For example, some babies are born with an immature arousal reflex, meaning their brain doesn’t tell them to wake up. Some babies have undiagnosed cardiac issues. Those deaths would not be considered SIDS. SIDS is a death that occurs with NO other identifiable reason. Meaning the infant was healthy with no known risk factors (such as being exposed to smoke or in an unsafe sleep environment). All infant sleep deaths, including SIDS, share risk factors.

Risk Factors for SIDS

Modifiable risk factors (things we can change like sleep environment and smoking) and non-modifiable risk factors (things we can’t change like undiagnosed cardiac or brain issues) for sleep related death are similar. Even though we don’t know with certainty how to prevent SIDS, there are things we can do that have been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. For example, SIDS deaths are higher in winter. We have learned that over-bundling or over-heating baby is a risk factor for SIDS, as is being exposed to smoke prenatally and postnatally.

AAP Risks for SIDS

The Triple Risk Model hypothesis. Credit: American Academy of Pediatrics News and Journals

This brings us to the Triple Risk Model hypothesis. Some scientists and doctors believe that it takes three things to come together to make a baby vulnerable to SIDS. One risk factor is the “critical development period” which is any infant under age 12 months. The second risk factor is classified as “outside stressors,” or things we can control – such as environment. And the third risk factor is being a “vulnerable infant” such as infants exposed to smoke prenatally, infants with genetic issues, being a boy, or being premature. When an infant meets all three of these criteria, they are at increased risk of SIDS. Now, that risk is still really, really small. But it’s larger than infants who only have one or two of these risk factors.

SIDS Prevention

This brings us back to our initial question- How do we prevent SIDS? The answer is that we can’t 100% eliminate the risk of SIDS, because we don’t 100% know what causes SIDS. But we CAN reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep related deaths by following the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations:

  • Back to sleep for every sleep
  • Use a firm sleep surface
  • Breastfeeding is recommended
  • Room-sharing with the infant on a separate sleep surface is recommended
  • Keep soft objects and loose bedding away from the infant’s sleep area
  • Consider offering a pacifier at naptime and bedtime
  • Avoid smoke exposure during pregnancy and after birth
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drug use during pregnancy and after birth
  • Avoid overheating
Safe Sleep Space Reduces Risk of SIDS

Smitten provides a portable safe sleep environment designed to reduce some SIDS risk factors.