calming & sleep

SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Causes and prevention

SIDS is the abbreviation for "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome" and the nightmare of all parents: when their apparently completely healthy baby or infant dies unexpectedly without any discernible cause. SIDS usually affects infants in the first few months of life. What almost all cases have in common is that the child dies in its sleep. Here you can find out the potential reasons for sudden infant death syndrome and some preventive measures you can take to keep your baby safe.

Facts about SIDS

SIDS was defined for the first time in 1969 as "the sudden death of a baby or infant which occurs unexpectedly and for which the cause of death cannot be determined even after an autopsy".

Sudden infant death syndrome usually occurs when breathing stops during sleep. SIDS usually affects children up to one year of age, with cases accumulating between the second and fourth month of life. Boys are affected slightly more often than girls. Although SIDS is very rare, it is one of the most common causes of death in industrialized countries.


SIDS was a mysterious phenomenon for a long time, because no cause for its occurrence could be identified. However, numerous studies have since shed light on the issue and identified physiological causes and risk factors. Because of this, it is possible to take preventive measures to reduce the risk of SIDS.

An increased risk exists for:

  • Premature babies with complications in pregnancy
  • Infants who are underweight at birth
  • Babies with health problems in the first weeks of life
  • Infants who have been exposed to nicotine, alcohol, or drugs during the pregnancy
  • Babies born to families in which an infant has already died of SIDS
  • Infants who have suffered previous life-threatening events or attacks of lifelessness

Studies have shown that smoking during pregnancy is one of the external causes. In addition to external circumstances such as lying on the tummy, overheating, and smoking, a 2018 study has also indicated genetic factors as a potential cause. The muscle cells do not work properly in the case of certain genetic mutations. If external factors such as restricted breathing due to lying on the stomach or cigarette smoke are then added, the deficient muscles are unable to prevent the lack of oxygen in the blood.

How can sudden infant death syndrome be avoided?

A number of preventive measures are recommended. The fact that such recommendations can make a big difference is clear from the sharp decline in the number of cot death cases since widely recommending that babies sleep on their backs.

What you can do to prevent SIDS:

  • Lay your baby on its back
  • Use a firm underlay/mattress
  • Do not leave objects in the bed, such as cuddly toys, blankets, pillows, sheepskin
  • Make sure the bedroom is cool (64-68 degrees Fahrenheit); the crib should not be placed next to a radiator
  • Do not use heavy, overly warm blankets, sleep sacks, or excessive clothing – many parents tend to dress their babies too warm
  • No head covering while sleeping
  • Do not smoke in the vicinity of the child
  • Breastfeed to prevent infections
  • Provide a pacifier if the infant accepts it
  • Position the bed close to the parents, a co-sleeper bed is also suitable
  • Do not allow baby to sleep in the parents' bed
  • Make sure that there is good air circulation around the sleeping area and especially around your baby's head (do not create a nest or fit a canopy)
  • Do not leave your baby unattended. Anxiety due to being alone, fretfulness, and mental strain are risk factors for SIDS.
  • During the first 6 months of life, exclusively breastfeeding is recommended, if possible. This also helps to prevent SIDS
  • Pacifiers are suitable as aids for falling asleep, but only after you and your baby have established a breastfeeding routine.

A good test to see if your baby is too warm is to feel the neck instead of the head. If the infant is hot or sweaty, remove some of its clothing, dress it in cooler garments, and/or provide fresh air.

Photos: Unsplash

Sources: R Männikkö, L Wong, DJ Tester, et al. Dysfunction of NaV1.4, a skeletal muscle voltage-gated sodium channel, in sudden infant death syndrome: a case-control study Lancet (2018) published online March 28