Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(10):online

See related article on SIDS.

What is SIDS?

SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, is the sudden death of a baby younger than one year. About 2,200 babies in the United States die each year from SIDS. It is the leading cause of death among healthy babies.

Who is at risk?

Babies who are put on their stomachs to sleep have the highest risk of SIDS. Putting your baby to sleep on his or her back is best. Babies are more likely to die from SIDS if they are around cigarette smoke (during pregnancy and after) or if they have parents who use illegal drugs. Not getting prenatal care can also increase the risk of SIDS. Babies who sleep in a parent's bed, especially if the parent has used alcohol or drugs, are more likely to die from SIDS. Having your baby use a pacifier while sleeping may decrease the risk of SIDS.

What can I do to prevent it?

Quit smoking before you get pregnant, and keep a smoke-free home after you have the baby. Always put your baby on his or her back when sleeping, even for a short nap. For the first few months, when your baby is sleeping, dress him or her in one extra layer of clothing than you would wear. Do not overwrap your baby and do not use heavy blankets; use light sheets and blankets instead. You should keep your baby in a bassinet or crib in your room until he or she is six months old. If you choose to sleep with your baby, never go to bed after using drugs or alcohol.

What about the flat spot on my baby's head?

Babies who spend a lot of time on their backs will get a flat spot on their head, which happens when the skull bones flatten. It is still important for your baby to sleep on his or her back. The flat spot can be prevented and treated by having “tummy time,” meaning that when they are awake, babies should spend as much time as possible playing on their tummies. This helps develop neck, trunk, and arm muscles. Leaving a baby in a swing or bouncy seat for hours a day can make the flat spot worse.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

American SIDS Institute

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