What Causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

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Radhika Krishnan
3 years ago

Definition: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is the sudden death of new born babies in their sleep. It occurs most often without warning, and can do so in normally healthy babies.


  1. In some babies, the brain is not fully developed. Hence, they tend to have an immature arousal centre. When having trouble breathing, they are unable to wake themselves up. For example, if the baby is unable to breath because her face is against the bed, normally this would wake the baby up from sleep, or she would automatically move her head such that she can breathe normally. But in babies with underdeveloped portions in the brain, this doesn’t happen and death can occur in their sleep.

  2. Cold and respiratory infection can lead to trouble in breathing, especially when baby is sleeping. 

  3. Abnormal preventive reflex responses: Normally, the laryngeal reflex helps clear out excess fluid from the airway that could cause trouble in breathing.  So, we end up either swallowing, or coughing up the fluid out through the throat or nose. However, for a baby with certain parts of the brain still underdeveloped, these responses might not be triggered. This can lead to sleep apnoea and in the worst case, SIDS.

  4. Babies who sleep on their tummy are more vulnerable, because they are breathing oxygen-depleted air. 

  5. Hyperthermia or overheating can occur due to wrong choice of clothing. Too many clothes may increase the body temperature. Higher temperatures would result in elevated metabolism levels and this, can lead to poor control over breathing.  

SIDS is more likely to occur in the following cases:

  • Boys are at a higher risk of SIDs than girls.
  • Premature babies, low birth weight babies, babies born as part of multiple births (twins, triplets etc.).
  • Infants exposed to cigarette smoke.
  • Babies who have not started rolling over. Infants from two to four months of age have the highest risk. However, babies should be safeguarded at least till they turn one year.
  • Winter makes babies more prone to SIDS due to extra bedding and clothes used to keep the baby warm.
  • Babies who have had siblings or other babies in the family die of SIDS are more vulnerable.
  • Babies born to very young mothers, especially those below 20 years. This may be due to lack of maturity in the mother and her inability to care for a baby.
  • Babies born to unhealthy mothers with very little or no prenatal care, unhealthy lifestyle choices, consumption of alcohol and drugs are more prone to SIDS.

In the next article, we will see how we can reduce the risk of SIDS.

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This article has been reviewed by our panel. The points, views and suggestions put forth in this article have been expressed keeping the best interests of fellow parents in mind. We hope you found the article beneficial.
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• causes
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• new born
• safety measures
• baby