Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a term that refers to the unexplained and sudden death of infants under 12 months old. It has previously been known as cot death, while the medical community now uses the umbrella term 'sudden unexpected death in infants' (SUDI) to encompass SIDS

What is SIDS?

When an otherwise healthy infant under 12 months of age dies and the cause cannot be determined, it is referred to as SIDS. SIDS is most likely to affect infants up to 6 months of age, with most incidences occurring between 2 and 4 months, and between 12am and 9am. If the death was due to an unknown and pre-existing medical problem it is unlikely to have been preventable.

With the proper precautions taken, the risk for SIDS decreases. Known cases are already very low and decreasing; the 2010 census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics identified 81 deaths in Australia as being due to SIDS, as opposed to around 500 in 1990.

What causes SIDS?

Some doctors propose that SIDS in caused by environmental stressors revealing underlying vulnerabilities within the baby. These can be present due to developmental difficulties or antenatal exposure to certain chemicals and substances.

Through collating and studying the data, doctors have been able to identify a range of factors common to many SIDS deaths. They believe these might be risk factors that, if removed, can help reduce the chances of SIDS occurrences.

How can I reduce the risk of SIDS?

By incorporating a few day-to-day precautions, you can help reduce the risk of SIDS in your baby. Some of these precautions include:
  • Sleeping baby on their back
  • Not exposing baby to cigarette smoke, both during pregnancy and after
  • Buying a new, firm mattress fitted to the cot's dimensions
  • Keeping soft toys and pillows out of the cot
  • Sleeping in the same bedroom (but not the same bed) as baby for their first 12 months
  • Not using cot bumpers
  • Not using soft, plush or fluffy doonas or quilts
  • Ensuring baby doesn't overheat or get cold by dressing them as you would, relevant to the room temperature
  • Tucking in bedding tightly and keeping it away from baby's face (tucking under the armpits can help)
  • Using a baby sleeping bag, which is worn like a piece of clothing

What doesn't reduce the risk of SIDS?

It can be a mistaken belief that immunisation contributes to SIDS. This belief is probably perpetuated by the fact that most SIDS deaths occur between 2 and 4 months of age, around the time of baby's first immunisations. Correlation, however, is not causation, and there is no evidence to suggest a link. It is also worth keeping in mind that while immunisation rates have continued to increase, SIDS deaths have been decreasing significantly.

Baby monitor use does not contribute to a reduced risk of SIDS, especially when it is recalled that most SIDS deaths occur quietly during sleep. Even during daytime sleeps, it is recommended that you stay in the same room with baby if possible.

The best precautions you can take are those previously mentioned that, with a bit of care and diligence, can be easily applied day-to-day.

Where can I get help?

If you are interested in further information specific to your home and family situation, it is advised that you speak to a maternal or child health expert, doctor or paediatrician. These professionals can also offer help and advice to a grieving family following an occurrence of SIDS.

*The above should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of trained medical professionals.