Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Risk Factors | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS, is a condition that occurs in otherwise healthy infants as the result of spontaneous cessation of breathing during sleep.

SIDS Statistics

SIDS is responsible for the deaths of 1 out of every 2,000 infants in Canada every year, with as many as 3 infants in Canada dying as a result of SIDS each week. While the number of deaths related to SIDS is declining, it’s still a problem that parents need to take precautions against.

What Causes SIDS?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome happens, almost always, when an infant is sleeping – whether it’s overnight or while they are napping. While plenty of research has been done on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in the last 40 years, there is still no definitive answer that researchers have been able to find as to what, exactly, causes SIDS, though it is believed that there may be a combination of many different factors. For example, some healthcare professionals have suggested that SIDS may be the result of a problem with the area of the brain that controls the ability to breathe and wake, or the result of restricted breathing (i.e. if blankets are covering their mouths or noses.) Underlying medical conditions such as heart problems and decreased levels of serotonin may also be a contributing factor, as well as the position in which the infant is sleeping.

Risk Factors

There are many different risk factors involved with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. While it’s not known why, mothers under the age of 20 are more likely to have a child at risk of developing SIDS. SIDS most commonly affects infants between the ages of 2 and 6 months, and will rarely affect infants over the age of 1 year as the risk of SIDS significantly decreases as your baby gets older. Other risk factors that put a baby at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome include premature birth (before 37 weeks), having a low birth weight, and being male. Being a sibling or a twin to a baby who has died of SIDS also increases that risk.

How to Reduce the Risk of SIDS

While there is unfortunately no way to guarantee the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, there are some recommendations that Dr. Ali Ghahary suggests parents of infants take, and they are as follows:

• First and foremost, make sure your baby sleeps on their back during the first year of their life. The risk of SIDS has been found to be as much as 13x higher in infants that sleep on their tummy, as this can cause an infant to have pauses in their breathing as well as overheat. If you find that your baby has rolled into their stomach, gently roll them onto his or her back.

• Choosing the right crib is also an important factor. Many cribs have been recalled over the years, so when choosing a crib for your infant make sure it meets all the required safety standards. You can find plenty of safety tips on cribs and bassinets by clicking here.

• Make sure your infant’s sleeping space is firm and is free of things like pillows and toys. Avoid things like memory foam mattresses and mattress toppers, as soft surfaces such as these can increase the risk of suffocation should your infant wind up in the tummy-down position. When using sheets, make sure it is one that is tight-fitted. It’s also still safe to use a mattress pad underneath the fitted sheet to protect from diaper leaks.

• If you are pregnant, avoiding smoking or drinking alcohol. Research suggests that an estimated one-third of SIDS related deaths could’ve been prevented had the mother avoided tobacco use and alcoholic beverages. Cigarette smoke and alcohol can also have a negative impact on your infant’s health in many other ways.

For more information on healthcare for infants and children, visit the BC Pediatric Society at bcpeds.ca.