Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may be one of the most frightening aspects of bringing a new baby home for most parents. SIDS is the unexpected death of a baby under the age of one while sleeping. But parents can fight the fear by educating themselves on SIDS statistics and SIDS rates, as well as SIDS prevention mechanisms.
"Every parent of a newborn should be aware of SIDS," says Cynthia Ambler, MD, pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine. "I talk about SIDS with the parents in my practice at the very first visit, usually in the first 24 hours of the baby's life. There is no test that can tell when SIDS is going to happen, but there are things that parents can do to lower the chance that it will happen."
When it comes to statistics, here's an important one to start with: SIDS cases are on the decline.
"The incident of SIDS has declined by more than 50% in the US since the early 1990s when the 'Back to Sleep' campaign was launched," says Dr. Ambler. (The program is now called the "Safe Sleep" campaign.)
According to the CDC, SIDS rates declined considerably from 130.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 35.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017.
Here's a look at more of the latest SIDS statistics in the U.S.
How common is SIDS?
To fully understand the statistics, it's important to understand the difference between two easily confused terms: SIDS and SUID.
"SUID is a term used to describe the sudden and unexpected death of a baby less than 1 year old in which the cause was not obvious before presentation," says William Mudd, DO pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children's. "The deaths often happen during sleep or in the baby's sleep environment. This is an umbrella term which would include SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), accidental deaths (such as suffocation and strangulation), sudden natural deaths (such as those caused from infections, cardiac or metabolic disorders, and neurological conditions), and homicides."
Here are the statistics on SIDS and SUID based on information gathered from the CDC's Division of Reproductive Health's monitoring programs:
What is SIDS risk by age?
According to the Technical Report of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the following are SIDS risk by age:
What are SIDS risk factors?
Nationality is a major indicator of SIDS incidence.
"Based on CDC data from 2013-2016, American Indian/Native had the greatest number of infant deaths at 200 per 100,000 live births, followed by Non-Hispanic Blacks around 185 per 100,000 live births, and Non-Hispanic white infants, around 85 per 100,000 births," says Dr. Mudd. "SIDS rates are lowest among Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander infants."
SIDS is also slightly more common in males than females. There are also other risk factors.
"Interestingly, there is also a higher rate (15-20% of all SIDS cases) occurring in day care settings. Other risk factors include maternal smoking, late prenatal care, young maternal age, low birth weight and premature babies," says Dr. Ambler.
How can parents prevent SIDS?
"A newborn baby will spend most of her day sleeping, even 20 hours per day," says Dr. Ambler. "You can decrease the risk of SIDS by always having your baby sleep on his/her back on a flat surface, no soft objects, loose blankets, pillows or bumper pads. They should never sleep in your bed but should sleep in your room for at least the first 6 months of life."
You can read the full "Safe Sleep" recommendations from the AAP here.
"SIDS is an absolutely devastating situation for families and we want to take all the preventative steps that we can to mitigate the risk," says Dr. Mudd.