Thousands of infants die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the U.S. The medical term for these deaths is sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Although the causes of death in many of these children can’t be explained, most occur while the infant is sleeping in an unsafe sleeping environment.
Researchers are not sure how often these deaths happen because of accidental suffocation from bedding or overlay (another person rolling on top of or against the infant while sleeping). Commonly, these deaths occur during unsupervised sleeping time. There are currently no tests to tell SIDS apart from suffocation.
Research shows parents and caregivers can take the following actions to help reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant (less than 1 year old) death:
- Always place babies on their backs to sleep for every sleep.
- Use a firm sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet.
- Have the baby share your room, not your bed. Your baby should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else.
- Keep soft objects, such as pillows and loose bedding out of your baby’s sleep area.
- Prevent exposure to smoking during pregnancy and after birth because these are important risk factors for SIDS. The risk of SIDS is even stronger when a baby shares a bed with a smoker. To reduce risk, do not smoke during pregnancy, and do not smoke or allow smoking around your baby.
Another great resource for caregivers and parents is DEL's training video. This training outlines the differences and similarities between SUID and SIDS, myths and facts about these causes of infant death and additional tools to help inform and instruct the public about safe sleep.
Also in the video is an in-depth exploration of safe sleep tactics such as placing infants on their backs versus placing babies on their stomachs to sleep--referencing the "Back to Sleep" campaign of 1992.
This training explains the importance of protecting infants during a crucial time of their development. Learn about SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death; what you can do to reduce the risk of SIDS with recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, focusing on a safe sleep environment.
While the topic of SIDS and SUID is complex and sensitive, it is important for parents and caregivers to educate themselves on research and best practices to promote safe sleep. If you are responsible for an infant, consider reputable resources such as the Center for Disease Control site and research-based campaigns such as the "Protect the Ones You Love" initiative and the "Safe to Sleep" education program with helpful graphics like the one below.