Preventing SIDS
Baby in crib

Tips for saving your baby's life

African-American and Native-American babies have a higher risk of SIDS than others, but why? Dr. Robert Cicco of West Penn Hospital explains the risk factors and how you can prevent SIDS.

Having a new baby means having new worries, including the risk of SIDS — sudden infant death syndrome.

According to the National Institute of Health, SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year old and is the leading cause of death in children between 1 month and 1 year of age.

Are you too worried about SIDS? >>

While overall rates of SIDS have gone down in recent years, unexplained infant deaths still happen and SIDS is more likely to happen to African-American and Native-American babies than non-Hispanic white babies. Dr. Cicco explains, "Rates in Caucasians nationwide have been between 0.5-1.0 SIDS deaths per 1,000 births. African-Americans have a rate of sudden unexplained death two to three times higher than whites."

SIDS risk factors, especially for babies of color

Why do babies of color have a higher incidence of SIDS?

"The easy answer is that no one knows for sure," says Cicco. "There is a higher incidence of known risk factors such as smoking, prematurity and poverty in African-Americans compared to Caucasians. There also appears to be a higher incidence of environmental factors as the data would show that African-Americans are about twice as likely to place their babies in unsafe sleep positions."

Studies indicate that for Native-Americans, in addition to a higher rate of unsafe sleep positions, there is greater likelihood of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, smoking and overheating babies with too much clothing or blankets. This population has an even higher rate of SIDS — Native-American babies are three times as likely to die of SIDS than Caucasians.

Study finds cigarette smoke increases SIDS risk >>

More tips for preventing SIDS regardless of your baby's race

While all unexplained deaths can't be prevented, taking the following precautions can decrease the risk of SIDS:

  • No smoking either during or after pregnancy
  • Avoid overheating your baby
  • Sleeping on the back
  • Sleeping in close proximity to the parents but in their own sleep space
  • Firm flat sleep surface without any soft or loose objects in the bed
  • Pacifier at bedtime

Cicco explains, "It is exceedingly rare that a baby will have a sudden death if the recommendations listed above are followed. Almost all SUIDs will be found to have at least one risk factor. We need to impress upon families that most — but not all — sudden infant deaths are potentially preventable."

Read more about SIDS

FDA says anti-SIDS baby products do not work
7 Ways to reduce the risk of SIDS
Be alert to the winter SIDS risk


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