Respect, Don’t Fear, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

You needn’t be too worried about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS – if you stick to a few basic rules.

SIDS, or cot death as it’s sometimes called, is the unexpected death of a baby who’s younger than one year, without a clear cause. There’s still a lot we don’t know about SIDS, but here’s what we do know…

The risk factors for SIDS are:

  • Multiple birth babies or prematurity
  • Babies who have a sibling who was lost to SIDS
  • Babies of teenage mothers
  • A short time in between pregnancies
  • Exposing babies to cigarette smoke, both during pregnancy and afterwards
  • Mother’s use of illegal drugs in pregnancy
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Respiratory infections
  • Shaken baby syndrome and other child abuse
  • Allergies and respiratory infections caused by mattresses or fluffy bedding
  • Exposure to botulism, which is most likely caused by giving Baby contaminated honey in his first year

What research indicates

Up to 65% of babies in SIDS deaths were found sleeping on their stomachs or sides. This doesn’t mean that was the cause though, and one must take into account that this typical ‘fetal position’ is pretty normal for most babies. Some 15 – 20% of infants are found with bedclothes covering their heads, which might cause death by overheating or by forcing the infant to re-breathe expired gases.

While co-sleeping is often discouraged in the West, for the vast majority of non-Westerners bed-sharing is the predominant sleeping arrangement.  A study conducted in Cape Town found that 94% of black infants slept with their mothers, compared with only 4% of white babies. The SIDS Family Association in Japan conducted a survey on risk factors related to SIDS, and found that 93% of babies slept in the same room as an adult, with most of them sleeping at the adult’s side. The SIDS rate in Japan at that time was 0.48 per 1 000 live births, among the lowest in the world, and the Association believes that co-sleeping should be promoted.

What are the causes of SIDS? 

We’re not quite sure what the exact causes of SIDS are, but here are some possibilities:

  • Accidental smothering, using pillows before two years and any form of overheating of Baby, especially while he sleeps – for example, fully clothed and sandwiched between parents instead of all wearing fewer clothes and covered with less bedding.
  • Undiagnosed low blood sugar and undiagnosed whooping cough.
  • Recent research shows that all SIDS babies had a brainstem abnormality, and didn’t produce enough serotonin, which is the hormone that helps coordinate breathing, blood pressure and temperature during sleep.

Sister Lilian Centre’s tips to prevent SIDS 

Official recommendation is that babies should sleep on their backs, but if your baby prefers a different position, there’s not much you can do about it! Common sense and the hints below will help ensure sleep safety:

  • Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, and continuing to breastfeed for as long as possible, is the best anti-SIDS investment a mom can make.
  • Keep Baby in a smoke-free environment.
  • Don’t give Baby honey before one year.
  • Avoid fluffy pillows and stuffed animals at night.
  • Don’t overdress Baby, especially if co-sleeping.
  • Don’t use heaters overnight.
  • Treat mucus problems promptly (use MucoCare for safe homeopathic help).
  • Solids, especially potential allergy foods, shouldn’t be introduced before six months.


Some people think that babies who sleep in their own cots are less likely to get SIDS than those babies who co-sleep. But, when a co-sleeping baby is lost to SIDS, it’s usually because of the parents’ drug use, smoking, formula feeding, obesity in the main caregiving adult, or the bedding used. Breastfed babies who sleep close to or alongside their mothers, breastfeed occasionally through the night and aren’t exposed to the factors mentioned above, have the lowest overall incidence of SIDS.