How to Reduce Your Baby’s Risk of SIDS

Know the risk factors and follow these preventive strategies.

baby in crib sleeping on back with head tilted to the side

Updated on April 22, 2022.

Each year about 3,400 infants under the age of one die from sudden and unexpected causes. In 2019, 1,250 of these infant deaths were due to confirmed SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). That could be an underestimate because investigators cannot always find the cause of death. 

Find out what may be endangering your baby—and learn steps you can take to reduce the risk of SIDS.

SIDS risk factors

While some cases of SIDS-related death have no apparent cause, over 95 percent of them are associated with one or more risk factors. Many of these risk factors are preventable. They include:

  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Age of mother under 20 years
  • Late or no prenatal care
  • Preterm birth or low birth weight
  • Putting baby to sleep on their stomach
  • Placing baby on a soft surface or in dangerous settings
  • Sharing a bed with parents
  • Overheating

Ways to reduce SIDS risk

If you have a baby under the age of one (or are about to have a baby), there are several measures you can take to help reduce the risk of SIDS:

Set your baby on their back to sleep. Generations ago, babies slept on their stomachs—and the rate of SIDS was double that of today. In the 1990s, guidelines changed in favor of putting babies to sleep on their backs, rather than their stomachs or sides, which increase the risk of SIDS. Following the simple mantra “back to sleep” cuts the risk of SIDS by over 50 percent.

Co-room, don’t co-sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released updated recommendations on SIDS prevention in 2016. Among the suggestions was to have your baby sleep in your room. This reduces their risk of SIDS by up to 50 percent. Just be sure they’re sleeping in an appropriate area, and not in your bed. Having baby sleep with you in your bed increases the risk of SIDS.

The safest option is to place a Consumer Product Safety Commission-approved bassinet by your bed, where baby is within arm’s reach but safely out of harm. 

Remove everything from the sleep area. According to a study published in 2016 in the journal Pediatrics, about 91 percent of parents put their children to sleep with unsafe items such as bedding, bumper pads, pillows, stuffed animals, and sleep positioners.

Even supposedly “safe” bumpers have been associated with infant deaths.  Between 2011 and 2017, 1,150 infant deaths were linked to soft objects, loose bedding, bumper pads, and other objects that could cause suffocation, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 2021 in Pediatrics.

Unless there’s an item your pediatrician explicitly says you must have in the crib, leave it out. Manufacturers who sell these items are taking advantage of parents’ fears and countering the guidance from the AAP.

Use a wearable blanket and swaddle only up to a certain age. Wearable blankets are safer than loose blankets in the crib. If you’re swaddling your infant, make sure to only place them on their back. As soon as your baby shows any signs of attempting to roll, stop using the swaddle, which can become a potential risk factor once your baby is more mobile.

Consider a pacifier. If your baby likes the soothing effect of a pacifier at bedtime, it's ok to use. It's not fully understood why, but research has shown that pacifiers at bedtime can reduce the risk of SIDS. Just be sure not to use a pacifier “leash,” which could become a suffocation hazzard.

Breastfeed. Nursing or feeding your baby pumped milk lowers the risk of SIDS, among other benefits. While the AAP recommends breastfeeding for six months, one study published in Pediatrics in 2017 found that risk of SIDS decreases with breastfeeding even for two months. The longer your baby is exclusively breastfed without adding formula or solid food, the lower their risk of SIDS may be.

While many parents can do this, others cannot for a variety of reasons. Even if you can’t breastfeed for the longer term, a little bit is better than none.

Don’t smoke. Smoke exposure during pregnancy and after birth are major risk factors for SIDS, particularly when baby shares a bed with an adult smoker—even if that person doesn’t smoke in bed.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Accessed April 12, 2022.
Moon RY. Task Force On Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Evidence Base for 2016 Updated Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5):e20162940.
Batra EK, Teti DM, Schaefer EW, Neumann BA, Meek EA, Paul IM. Nocturnal Video Assessment of Infant Sleep Environments. Pediatrics. 2016;138(3):e20161533.
Parks SE, Erck Lambert AB, Hauck FR, Cottengim CR, Faulkner M, Shapiro-Mendoza CK. Explaining Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths, 2011-2017. Pediatrics. 2021;147(5):e2020035873.
Carlin RF, Moon RY. Risk Factors, Protective Factors, and Current Recommendations to Reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Review. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(2):175-180.
Alm B, Wennergren G, Möllborg P, Lagercrantz H. Breastfeeding and dummy use have a protective effect on sudden infant death syndrome. Acta Paediatr. 2016;105(1):31-38.
Thompson JMD, Tanabe K, Moon RY, et al. Duration of Breastfeeding and Risk of SIDS: An Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2017;140(5):e20171324.
National Institutes of Health. Breastfeed Your Baby to Decrease the Risk of SIDS. Accessed April 12, 2022.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About SIDS and Safe Infant Sleep. Accessed April 22, 2022.
Horne RSC. Sudden infant death syndrome: current perspectives. Intern Med J. 2019;49(4):433-438.

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