What Are Some of the Main Causes of SIDS?

Baby sucking on pacifier while asleep on back in a Woolino sleep sack.

As new parents, many of us are focused on what we can do for our infants despite the fact that they cannot exactly tell us what they need. 

We turn to fellow parents, parenting experts, and medical professionals to understand what challenges and risks our babies face, and there is a lot of comfort to be found in their assistance.

While the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is rare, many parents fear it specifically because they feel that it isn’t within their control to keep their children safe. 

If you’re looking for a SIDS definition or SIDS meaning, the main characteristic is that it is unexplained. SIDS isn’t a diagnosed set of conditions or symptoms, but rather the diagnosis when no other explanation for an infant death can be found. The fact that this unexplained condition is the leading cause of infant death can be frightening until you get all the facts and information.

As a new mother or father, looking into the SIDS risk by age, safe sleeping practices, and ways to prevent SIDS can give you simple, practical methods to help your baby sleep happily with a very low risk of harm.

The first step is always to follow the guidelines of your pediatrician for how to practice safe sleeping for infants. They will have the most up to date information. After that, however, there are other key pieces of information from research that can help you reduce the risks of SIDS.

How Common is SIDS?

The first piece of good news is that SIDS is declining. Since 1990, the rate of sudden infant death syndrome has gone down from 130 per 100,000 babies to 35.1 per 100,000. That amounts to 1 in almost 3000, so thankfully SIDS is a very rare condition. 

Remember, as you consider risks and prevention of SIDS, most sudden infant deaths occur before 6 months of age. If your baby is already older than 6 months, you should recognize that this isn’t very likely to be a concern for your family, though the American Academy of Pediatrics sees the risk as going up to 12 months old. 

Preventing SIDS

While preventing SIDS entirely isn’t possible, since the ultimate causes are still unclear, you can make some changes and choices to make SIDS less likely. 

Before your baby is born, you can reduce the odds of SIDS by avoiding drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes during pregnancy. Women who receive prenatal care tend to have lower rates of SIDS as well, so pursuing prenatal assistance from a doctor or other medical provider is also a good step toward avoiding SIDS.

Once your baby is born, there are further steps you can take. Placing your baby on his or her back to sleep, rather than their stomach or side, has been shown to correlate with less SIDS. 

Similarly, placing your baby on a firm mattress with no blankets or pillows is helpful for reducing SIDS risk. To keep your baby cool in the summer and warm in the winter, a good option is to use a Woolino 4 Season Baby Sleep Bag. 

Rather than leaving a loose blanket, which can bunch around baby’s face and risk blocking airflow, the sleep bag envelops the baby with warmth while staying away from the face.

There is also a correlation between breastfeeding an infant and the lowered risk of SIDS. In addition, breastfeeding has been shown to have some other modest benefits for your baby, so it may be worth considering if breastfeeding is an option available to you. 

Lastly, using a pacifier isn’t a bad idea if your baby enjoys it as a method of soothing him or herself. Pacifiers are associated with lower risks of SIDS, though more research is needed for this and other SIDS issues.

SIDS Risk Factors

Risk factors should not be used to frighten you, but rather to simply help you be more informed. For instance, baby boys are slightly more likely to experience SIDS, but the difference is not large. It’s just as important to protect baby boys as baby girls using good sleep practices. 

Other risk factors are unexplained in the literature, but they include slightly higher risks for infants born in non-white families, babies born prematurely, and babies who have family members, like siblings or cousins, who died of SIDS.

Babies born to mothers who are younger than 20 also are at a slightly elevated risk of SIDS, so if you are a particularly young mother, pay attention to both prevention and risk reduction options to put any SIDS fears to rest.

SIDS Risk By Month

The most common ages for SIDS are between 2-4 months, though some occur in the 0-3 months and 4-6 months ranges as well. After 6 months, rates of SIDS drop to extremely low levels. 0-3 months and 4-6 months are the main age ranges when this concern arises. When it comes to SIDS, 8-12 month old children are much less likely to experience it.

72% of SIDS occurs during months 1-4, while more than 90% occur before 6 months of age. After 6 months, it appears that SIDS becomes vanishingly rare.

It’s possible that babies at 6 months of age or older are better able to move themselves both while they are awake and asleep, which helps them regulate their sleep position better if they run into a low oxygen position. 

As your child grows, he or she may spend more time sleeping on his or her side or in other positions than the AAP safe sleep recommendations. When your baby becomes a toddler, you can start using more normal pillows and blankets, knowing your child can regulate his or her own breathing well and avoid face-covering soft items during sleep.

SIDS Symptoms

There aren’t clear “symptoms” of SIDS, unfortunately, until after the fact. There is a theory that a small portion of babies aren’t as well equipped to notice when they aren’t receiving enough oxygen. It’s considered part of a “Triple-Risk Model” that is used to potentially explain the occurrence of SIDS in a very small number of babies.

These babies, if they encounter a suffocation risk at a vulnerable age while sleeping, are more likely to experience suffocation, since they do not wake themselves up or move in response to the danger.

While it isn’t known which babies have this potential abnormality in oxygen detection, preventing suffocation risks during vulnerable ages has had a major impact to decrease SIDS over the past 30 years, which is encouraging for all of us who want to work toward SIDS prevention.

Reduce Risk of SIDS With Good Sleep Hygiene

If the brain abnormality cannot be controlled, you can still create good sleep habits for your baby that reduce SIDS risk factors until they are old enough to be out of danger.

For instance, by having your baby sleep in the same room as you and your partner, you may hear a baby who is struggling for breath more quickly and wake them up before a problem really occurs.

While same-room sleeping is considered a beneficial form of sleep hygiene for babies, bed sharing hasn’t been definitively associated with a positive effect on SIDS experiences. 

Bed sharing, where a parent and an infant sleep in the same bed, is often associated with there being more pillows or blankets present, since many adults use these items. Baby should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else, according to outlined Safe to Sleep guidelines.

You should also avoid overheating your baby, which has negative impacts on sleep. Woolino baby sleeping bag products are made of superfine wool that is amazingly breathable, helping babies regulate their body temperatures well while still staying warm enough to be comfortable and snug.

Key Takeaways About The Main Causes of SIDS

Risk factors and prevention are two different topics within SIDS research, and focusing on the prevention options available to you is a smart plan. 

Having your baby sleep on a firm sleep surface like a mattress, alone, in a room with you, and without soft bedding around him or her creates the best opportunity for sleep that is safe. Your baby, if begun on this style of sleep, is likely to accept it as the normal way of sleeping, but if you haven’t had your baby sleep this way before, now is a great time to start safe sleeping practices.

SIDS isn’t fully understood, but these prevention strategies help to protect babies from the unexplainable factors of SIDS at this point. 

To keep a baby comfortable without adding pillows and blankets to their sleep environment, consider the many options that Woolino has to offer, made of supremely comfortable and breathable merino wool.



Author: Laura Leavitt