Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death or crib death, is the sudden unexplained death of a child less than one year of age. It usually occurs during sleep. Typically death occurs between the hours of 00:00 and 09:00. There is usually no evidence of struggle and no noise produced.

It is the most common cause of death between one month and one year of age. About 90% of cases happen before six months of age, with it being most frequent between two months and four months of age. It is more common in boys than girls.

Causes of SIDS

The exact cause of SIDS is unknown. However, known risk factors include:

  1. Age
  2. Sleeping on the stomach or side
  3. Hyperthermia or hypothermia
  4. Exposure to tobacco smoke.
  5. Accidental suffocation from bed sharing(also known as co-sleeping) or soft objects may also play a role.
  6. Being born before 39 weeks of gestation.
  7. Infections
  8. Genetic disorders
  9. Heart problems.

Intentional child suffocation may be misdiagnosed as SIDS, this is believed to make up less than 5% of cases.

cute baby girl sleeping


A number of measures have been found to be effective in preventing SIDS including:

  1. Putting a child less than one year old on their back to sleep
  2. Firm mattress separate from but close to caregivers,
  3. No loose bedding,
  4. A relatively cool sleeping environment,
  5. Using a pacifier
  6. Avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke.
  7. Breastfeeding
  8. Immunization

Measures not shown to be useful include positioning devices and baby monitors.


Families who are impacted by SIDS should be offered emotional support and grief counseling. Grief support for families affected by SIDS is important, as the death of the infant is sudden, without witnesses, and often associated with an investigation. The experience and manifestation of grief at the loss of an infant are impacted by cultural and individual differences.

References: Wikipedia, Mayo Clinic, WHO, CDC

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