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What is SIDS?

SIDS is short for “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.” It’s a type of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (also known as SUID). 

SIDS happens silently to a healthy baby. Since it occurs during the time a baby is sleeping, SIDS is commonly known as crib death. 

Ninety percent of SIDS deaths occur in infants younger than 6 months.

The National Institute of Child Health defines SIDS as the sudden death of an infant under a year old which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation, including:

  • a complete autopsy.
  • an examination of the death scene.
  • a review of the child’s health history.

Authorities categorize SIDS deaths separately from “unexplained” deaths. An infant death categorized as “unexplained” was not investigated well enough to rule out possible causes of death (for example, there was no autopsy, or the death scene was not properly examined).

How common is SIDS?

SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants under a year old. In 2015, about 1,600 infant deaths were classified as SIDS.

In the United States over the last 20 years, the number of deaths classified as SIDS has declined significantly, while the number of  deaths attributed to accidental suffocation has gone up.

Meanwhile, the overall Sudden Unexpected Infant Death rate declined from 154.6 deaths per live birth in 1990 to 92.6 deaths per live birth in 2015.


While the exact cause of SIDS is by definition unknown, research into these deaths continues. According to the National Institutes of Health, “evidence suggests that infants who die from SIDS are born with brain abnormalities or defects.” That alone, however, likely doesn’t cause SIDS death. Researchers are focusing on what they call the “triple risk model:”

  • The infant is vulnerable because of an underlying condition such as a brain abnormality or defect.
  • The infant is undergoing normal unpredictable physical changes.
  • The infant experiences environmental stressors such as stomach sleep position, secondhand smoke or a respiratory infection.

While each of the conditions is survivable on its own, the reasoning goes, the combination of factors can create the conditions for SIDS.


Because SIDS is associated with the time an infant is asleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends safe-sleeping practices as prevention for SIDS. These include:

  • Having babies sleep on their back, both at night and for naps, until they are at least a year old.
  • Using a firm sleeping surface that’s hard enough that it doesn’t indent when the baby lies on it.
  • Keeping the baby’s sleeping area in the room where an adult sleeps, ideally for the entire first year.
  • Bringing the baby into an adult’s bed only for feeding or comfort; it’s recommended that the baby not sleep with an adult.
  • Keeping all items, including blankets, out of the crib while the baby is sleeping. If you are concerned about the baby getting cold, dress him or her in warmer clothing.
  • Making sure the baby is not overheated while sleeping.
  • Giving the baby a pacifier to use while sleeping.

Additionally, mothers can reduce the vulnerability of their babies by:

  • Refraining from smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs before and after the baby is born.
  • Breastfeeding.


UK HealthCare is the first and only hospital in Lexington that has achieved the standard of excellence of being Baby-Friendly designated. This means that it has successfully worked toward excellence in providing evidence-based maternity care with the goal of achieving optimal mother/baby bonding, including successful breastfeeding.

American Academy of Pediatrics:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Locations


    Kentucky Children's Hospital
    Kentucky Children's Hospital
    UK Chandler Hospital - Pavilion HA
    800 Rose St.
    First Floor
    Lexington, KY 40536

    To transfer neonates to our facility, please contact UKMD's at 800-888-5533

    Pediatric Specialty Clinic

    UK Pediatric Specialty Clinic

    Kentucky Clinic building
    Kentucky Clinic
    740 S. Limestone
    Second Floor, Wing D, Room J201
    Lexington, KY 40536
    Fax 859-257-0491

    Patient-centered specialty practice badge

    Maternal-Fetal Medicine

    Primary Care Centers of Eastern Kentucky
    Primary Care Centers of Eastern Kentucky
    101 Town and Country Lane
    Hazard, KY 41701