Occasionally you will hear the news cover a story in which an infant dies unexpectedly, and you may wonder, how can something like that happen? Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a condition that occurs when an infant less than one year of age dies unexpectedly and with no determined cause, even after an autopsy is performed. SIDS is one type of sudden unexplained infant death (SUID), which can only be determined when an examination of the scene, autopsy, and review of the infant’s medical record is completed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite nearly 3,500 unexpected infant deaths annually, with 1,500 of them classified as SIDS. Even though no direct cause is found when an infant dies of SIDS, there are known factors which contribute to SIDS occurring. For example, smoking during pregnancy and an infants’ secondhand smoke exposure after birth increase the risk of SIDS. Many SIDS cases are actually accidental suffocation or strangulation. Infants primarily breathe through their noses, but when their nasal passages and mouth become blocked, they do not have the ability pull their faces away and gasp like older children and adults do.

October is SIDS awareness month. To help reduce the risk of SIDS, put your baby on their back when you lay them down to sleep, and remove extra loose bedding, plush bumper pads, and pillows that could block their airway. As inviting as it may be to let your child sleep in your bed, it should be avoided because you could easily accidentally smother your child. Do not smoke during pregnancy and do not expose children to secondhand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, contact Breathe Pennsylvania at 1-800-220-1990.




  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015, September 28). Parents and caregivers. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/sids/parents-caregivers.htm.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014, November 24). Health effects of secondhand smoke. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015,September 28). Sudden unexpected infant death and sudden infant death syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/sids/aboutsuidandsids.htm.