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Most SIDS Cases Caused by Known Risk Factors


Do you know all the risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)? More than 96 percent of infants who died of SIDS were exposed to known risk factors, and in 78 percent of cases the cause of death was attributed to more than one risk factor. That is the word according to a new study from UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

The American Academy of Pediatric’s “Back-to-Sleep” campaign, along with other awareness programs, has helped reduce the incidence of SIDS by more than 50 percent since the 1990s by educating parents and other caregivers about the risk factors. Yet SIDS is still the third leading cause of infant death in the United States, an indication that more needs to be done.

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The focus of the “Back-to-Sleep” campaign highlights the biggest risk factor for SIDS: placing infants on their stomach to sleep. Yet there are other risk factors that are also critical, as evidenced by the fact that more than three-quarters of SIDS deaths had multiple risk factors. That was the finding of the new study by Barbara M. Ostfeld, PhD, and Thomas Hegyi, MD, both professors in the Department of Pediatrics at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Back sleep is associated with the lowest risk factor for SIDS. Yet there are others as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics and, as Dr. Ostfeld notes, “It is important that health care providers communicate all of the risk factors of SIDS ideally during the prenatal period as well as at birth and throughout the first year of an infant’s life.” Along with parents, grandparents, babysitters, and anyone else who may be involved in an infant’s care should be educated about these risk factors.

Among the other risk factors are exposure to tobacco smoke, use of soft or loose bedding and pillows in the infant’s sleeping space, causing the infant to become overheated, smoking during pregnancy, and bed-sharing (although room-sharing is recommended). A complete list of the guidelines can be seen on the SIDS Center of New Jersey website.

As is true with other health conditions, SIDS can have multiple causes and risk factors. It is important for parents and other caregivers to know and understand all the risk factors for SIDS so no parent ever has to know the sorrow of losing a child to this preventable cause of death.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Center of New Jersey
UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School