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Prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

What is it?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected death of an infant under 1 years old. SIDS is the most common cause of death in infants after 1 month of age. Usually it affects infants who are between 2 and 4 months old. It is most common during the winter months. Most SIDS deaths occur while an infant is sleeping face down. Although infants who sleep on their back or side are much safer, these infants can die of SIDS too. African American and some American Indian infants are more likely to die of SIDS than white infants are.


The exact cause of SIDS is not known. SIDS can occur in normal, healthy infants. The following may increase an infant's chance of SIDS.

  • An infant is placed on his stomach to sleep.
  • Birth defects (something the infant is born with).
  • Keeping an infant too warm.
  • Improper or no prenatal care.
  • Premature or low birth weight newborn.
  • The infant has or had a recent infection.
  • The infant is around people who smoke.
  • The infant is male.
  • The mother smoked during or after her pregnancy.
  • Illegal drug use by mother.
  • Using fluffy or soft bedding that could smother the infant.
  • Young maternal age of mother (mother is young).

Signs and Symptoms:

There are no warning signs that an infant may die of SIDS.


The following are examples of ways to decrease the chance of SIDS.

  • Sleeping Position:
    • The American Academy of Pediatrics and many other organizations recommend placing infants on their back to sleep. This also includes naps. This is the most important thing you can do to prevent SIDS. An easy way to remember this is to always put your baby "back to sleep."
    • Your baby may also sleep on his side. The arm your baby is lying on should be positioned in front of your baby's body. This may help stop your baby from rolling onto his stomach. Sleeping on his back is still the best choice, but side sleeping is safer than on the stomach.
    • Your baby can be on his stomach while awake if you are watching him. This is called "tummy time." This helps make your baby's neck and shoulder muscles stronger.
    • Talk to your baby's caregiver about what sleeping position is best for your baby. If your baby has certain medical problems, a caregiver may want your baby to sleep on his stomach.
  • Crib Safety:
    • Do not put stuffed animals, toys, pillow bumper pads, or extra pillows in your baby's crib. These objects could cover your baby's mouth or nose, causing suffocation (not able to breathe). Use a fitted bottom sheet made for your baby's crib. The mattress should be the correct size for the crib. The crib's mattress should be against all four sides of the crib. This can help protect your baby from getting trapped between the mattress and the crib.
    • The space between the bars should not be more than 2 3/8 inches (width of a soda-pop can). Your baby could get stuck or fall between the bars if they are any wider. There should be no cutouts in the head and footboard because your baby's head may get stuck in them. Children under the age of 2 should sleep in cribs.
  • Sleeping Surface: Your baby should not sleep on soft surfaces. This includes pillows, soft mattresses, waterbeds, quilts, sheepskin, beanbags, or other forms of soft bedding. Your baby should sleep on a firm flat mattress or other firm surface. Your baby's crib should be a safety-approved crib.
  • Head Covering
    • Never cover your baby's head while he is sleeping. Blankets or other coverings can cover your baby's mouth and nose causing suffocation.
    • There is a good way to prevent a blanket from covering your baby's head while sleeping in a crib. First, place your baby so his feet are at the bottom of the crib. Make sure your baby is on his back. Second, put the blanket over your baby from his feet and up to the middle of his chest. Third, tuck the blanket around the crib mattress, so your baby is snug. This can help to keep the blankets from moving up to your baby's face.
  • Overheating: Your baby should be kept warm, but not too warm. Your baby should not feel hot to the touch. Some other signs your baby may be too hot include sweating, damp hair, restlessness, heat rash, and rapid breathing. Your baby's room should be at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult. Try using a sleeper or other sleep clothing to keep your baby warm instead of blankets. If you need to use blankets or other covers, do not cover your baby's mouth or nose.
  • Bed Sharing: Your baby may be at risk if you or anyone else sleeps with your baby. For example, sleeping with your baby in a bed or sofa is putting your baby at risk for SIDS. Placing your baby's crib or bassinet next to your bed may be a better idea. If you do choose to bed share, you should not smoke or use substances such as alcohol. Using these products may make you less alert and you may accidentally smother your baby. If you choose to breastfeed in bed, make sure your baby is safe and on his back while sleeping.
  • Breastfeeding: Your baby is at less risk for SIDS if you breastfeed. Breastfeeding can help protect your baby against infections.
  • Prenatal Care: Regular and early prenatal care may help reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Smoke-Free Zone: You should not allow anyone including yourself to smoke around your baby. Your house should be a smoke-free zone.
  • Well Baby Checkups: Be sure to take your baby to all scheduled check-ups. This will make sure your baby has received all of the shots needed to prevent infection.
  • Home Apnea Monitors:
    • A home apnea (ap-nee-uh) monitor is a machine that monitors your baby's breathing and heart rate. The monitor has leads (wires) attached to electrodes (small round sticky pads) placed on your baby's chest. The apnea monitor makes a loud noise if the heart rate or breathing rate get too high or too low. The monitor can make you aware that your baby is having a problem.
    • Caregivers may want your baby attached to a monitor if he has breathing and heart problems. It is possible for a baby to die from SIDS even if he is connected to an apnea monitor.

More Information:

You may want to contact the following for more information about SIDS.

  • National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Resource Center
    8280 Greensboro Dr, Ste 300
    McLean, VA 22102
    Phone: 1-703-821-8955
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
    PO Box 3006
    Rockville, MD 20847
    Phone: 1-800-370-2943
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your baby's care. To help with this plan, you must learn about SIDS. You can then discuss the best protection against SIDS with your baby's caregiver. You can work your baby's caregiver to decide what will be the best way to protect your baby.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.