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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is an unexplained medical disorder that claims the lives of thousands of infants each year. SIDS affects babies between the ages of one week and one year, usually during sleep. And it strikes without warning. The cause of SIDS is unclear; its victims appear to be healthy. Unfortunately, neither medical experts nor parents can predict which babies will die.

Cause Unknown, Possible Risks
Although the cause of SIDS is unknown, there are several risk factors that may contribute to SIDS. Statistics show that more babies die of SIDS during cold weather months. Babies who sleep on their stomachs are also more vulnerable to SIDS, as well as babies whose mothers smoked during and after pregnancy. Snug-fitting sheets are recommended because loose bedding, such as pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals can overheat your baby – another possible cause of SIDS.

Secondhand Crib Mattress Linked to SIDS
In a recent study, Scottish researchers found that babies who sleep on secondhand crib mattresses seem to be at higher risk of SIDS. However, it is not clear if the mattress itself is the cause of the association. Some unrelated factor may be responsible for the link, which is significantly stronger if the secondhand mattress was from another home than if it was from the same home. Click here to view the report published in the November 2nd, 2002 issue of the British Medical Journal (PDF format, 237KB, need Acrobat Reader to view).

Steps Parents Can Take

  • Lay your baby down on his or her back at night and naptime. Infants who sleep on their stomachs are at higher risk for SIDS.
  • Do not place your baby on a secondhand crib mattress.
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy or the critical first year of life. In addition, keep your infant away from any smokers.
  • Do not place your baby on a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, pillow, or other soft surface to sleep.
  • Avoid overheating your baby. Use only snug-fitting sheets, and remove all excess bedding (stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, etc.) from your baby's crib.
  • Keep your thermostat set to between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the indoor temperature recommended by pediatricians.

To learn more about SIDS, visit the National Institutes of Health's "Back to Sleep Campaign" Web site.

[Sources: SIDS Alliance, National Institutes of Health]

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