All About SIDS: Risk Factors and How to Prevent It

Baby in bedside crib sleeping

Even the most veteran parents can feel anxious about bringing a new baby into the world. They are so small and precious; it is terrifying to think of anything terrible happening to them. One fear at the forefront of most parents' minds is the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is a baby's sudden and unexplained death within the first year of life. 

What do we know?

Thankfully there have been some recent breakthroughs with SIDS, with hopefully much more to come. For a long time, SIDS was understood to be purely a safe-sleep issue that could be prevented by maintaining specific safe-sleep procedures that ruled out risks such as suffocation. We have since learned that variables, including physical and biological connections, may lead to SIDS. However, research (like this study) is still developing, and parents should maintain practices proven to mitigate risk factors diligently. 

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Risk factors for SIDS

Circumstances known to increase the risk of SIDS include both controllable and uncontrollable factors. Note that some factors that may appear controllable for parents may be less so, depending on the family's circumstances and other adults and caretakers in the baby's life. They include:

  • Brain defects 
  • Being born premature or having a low birth weight
  • An older sibling or cousin having previously died of SIDS
  • Male babies
  • Babies aged between two to four months
  • BIPOC babies
  • Baby placed to sleep on their stomach or side.
  • Soft sleeping surfaces such as a plush comforter or waterbed
  • Sharing a bed with parents, siblings, or pets
  • The room being too warm, and the baby overheating. 
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Respiratory infections
  • Mothers younger than 20
  • Mothers who smoke, drink alcohol, or abuse drugs
  • Inadequate prenatal care
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What can we do?

While some factors may be beyond our control, there are many things parents and caregivers can do to minimize the risk of SIDS. Some of these factors remain controversial for some families. Use your best judgment and trust peer-reviewed research when deciding about your baby's safety.

  • "Back is best" - Place your baby to sleep on their back and never their stomach or side during their first year of life until they can easily roll from tummy to back or back to stomach without help. 
  • Declutter the crib - Do not place objects inside your baby's crib, such as toys, pillows, or stuffed animals. 
  • Firm sleep surface - Use a firm mattress in your baby's crib or bassinet without thick padding. 
  • Moderate temperatures - Take care that your baby does not overheat. Dress them appropriately and regulate the room's temperature as much as possible. 
  • Room share - Unlike bed-sharing, keeping your baby in the same room as you while sleeping can significantly minimize the risk of SIDS. You should aim to room-share until your baby is at least six months old, ideally a year. 
  • Keep pacifiers on hand - Sucking on a pacifier can help lower the risk of SIDS. Still, you will want to be sure that pacifiers are free of attachments like strings, straps, or stuffed animals. 
  • Breastfeeding when possible - Breastfeeding may not be an option for every baby. Still, it has been found that breastfeeding for up to six months helps to lower the risk of SIDS. 
  • Don't rely on technology alone - Many tools on the market claim to minimize the risk of SIDS. Parents and caregivers should never put their complete trust in these tools as they are limited and not guaranteed. There is no replacement for your presence near your baby.
  • Stay up to date on immunizations - Immunizations can help prevent all kinds of illnesses for your baby and can potentially help reduce the risk of SIDS. 
  • Wash hands and avoid face kisses - Viruses can be hazardous for babies and their newly forming immune systems. Respiratory infections can make it harder for your baby to breathe and increase the risk of SIDS. Ensure everyone near your baby washes their hands frequently and never kiss your baby on the face or hands. 

Being a new parent (or a new-again parent) can be overwhelming! Research is constantly changing with new laundry lists of "do's" and "don't's." Take confidence in caring for your new baby by doing the absolute best you can with the information you have, being open to learning new information when the opportunity arrives, and giving yourself permission to enjoy life with your new addition rather than getting caught up in all the things you might not know. It's always best to do your due diligence, but there is only so much you can do, and the best parent is a calm, well-informed, happy parent!


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