Protecting our children: Learn about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

If you are a new or expecting parent, congratulations on this exciting new time in your life! There are many important things to learn about caring for your baby, especially how to protect them and keep them safe. It is a disturbing fact that African American children die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, at a rate more than twice that of white children. SIDS involves the death of a baby younger than 1 year old without a known cause.  We owe it to our families and our communities to educate ourselves on how to reduce the risk of SIDS.

What is SIDS?

SIDS is the diagnosis given for the sudden death of a baby less than one year of age that remains unexplained after a complete investigation, including an autopsy, examination of the scene and review of the health of the baby prior to dying and any other pertinent medical and family history. A typical case of SIDS, a parent or other caregiver puts a healthy baby down to sleep and returns later to find that the baby has died.

SIDS is still the leading cause of death for babies one month to one year of age, claiming more than 2,300 lives each year. Other major causes of infant death are prematurity (being born too soon and too small) and birth defects (the most common form of which are associated with the formation of the brain and spinal cord).  Sadly, SIDS can neither be predicted nor completely prevented.  But there are things parents, grandparents and other caregivers can do to reduce a baby’s risk of SIDS death.

What are some risks for SIDS?

As a parent or caregiver, you have an important job in choosing where and how your baby will sleep at night and naptime. Your baby’s sleep safety is essential to help keep the baby healthy and alive. A number of things may put your baby at risk while sleeping.

  • Sleeping on their tummies puts babies at risk for SIDS.  The number of babies dying of SIDS has become much lower since more parents and caregivers began placing babies on their backs to sleep.
  • Another risk for babies is suffocation in soft bedding.  Soft bedding includes pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, pillow-like stuffed toys, and other soft products that may keep the baby from breathing easily. These items should be removed from the place in which a baby is sleeping.  Keep your baby’s head uncovered during sleep.
  • Co-sleeping and letting a baby sleep in an adult bed can also put your baby at risk for suffocation and SIDS. This risk includes having the baby sleeping in an adult bed with any adult or child.  It is also important to know that SIDS or ‘crib death’ is not caused simply by sleeping in a crib.

Quick Tips for a Healthy Baby:

Before the Baby is born:

  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs
  • Early and good prenatal care can help prevent a baby from developing an abnormality that could put him or her at risk for sudden death.
  • Prepare a safe sleep place for baby


Naptime and Bedtime tips when Baby comes home:

  • Always put baby on her back to sleep. Allow baby to play on her stomach when awake.
  • Check on sleeping babies frequently.
  • Baby should only sleep in a safety-approved crib with a firm mattress that fits snuggly and is covered with only a tight-fitting crib sheet. Play yard style cribs are also a good choice.
  • Do not use loose blankets in a baby’s crib.  Layer clothing or use a wearable blanket or other type sleeper (such as a swaddle) to keep baby warm AND safe during sleep.
  • Use a firm mattress for baby’s crib – avoid waterbeds, beanbag chairs, sofas, pillows, and cushions.
  • Keep cribs free of toys, stuffed animals, and excessive bedding such as comforters, bumper pads, and pillows.
  • Avoid overheating. Baby’s room should be kept cool, between 68°F – 72°F.
  • Babies should not sleep in beds with parents or siblings. Babies should have their own separate, safe sleep space.
  • Remember that, when awake, babies need supervised time to play on their tummies to strengthen their necks, backs and other muscles.
  • Take your baby to the doctor for all regular well-baby checkups and make sure that your baby receives his or her immunizations on schedule.
  • Do not smoke around the baby. Do not keep the baby in the same house or car with someone who is smoking. If the mother or another person living with the baby is a smoker, encourage them to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free help in trying to quit.
  • Breast-feed babies whenever possible. Breast milk can help prevent infections that make it hard for the baby to breathe. Breast-fed babies have a lower SIDS rate than formula-fed babies do.

Other things you can do to reduce the risk of SIDS:

Everyone who cares for an infant can play an important role in reducing the risk of SIDS deaths. Parents, grandparents, baby-sitters, and child care providers all can help prevent and infant death tragedy by following these tips.

Do you need further information, support or have questions or comments, about this article? Please visit or call toll-free 1-800-221-7437. For information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, please visit:

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