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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

"back To Sleep" Campaign

SIDS occurs more frequently in New Zealand and the United States than in Japan and China. Within the United States it is more common in African-American babies than Hispanic babies. These differences suggest that certain cultural factors of baby care, particularly how he or she is put to bed, may affect the incidence of SIDS. Scientists do not understand exactly why these differences matter—just that they do.

The single most important thing a parent or caregiver can do to lower the risk of SIDS is to put the baby to sleep on its back or side rather than on its stomach. In 1992 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended placing healthy infants to sleep on their backs or sides. The group made the recommendation after reviewing several large studies done in New Zealand, England, and Australia. The studies demonstrated that SIDS declined as much as 50% in communities that had adopted this sleeping position for infants. In the United States, the "Back to Sleep" campaign has been very successful and appears to have contributed significantly to a sharp drop in SIDS in the past few years. However it also may have resulted in an increase in "misshapen head" syndrome, caused by infants always sleeping on their backs. This syndrome is readily treatable with physical therapy.

In the past the supine (or back-sleeping) position has been discouraged for fear that a sleeping infant might spit up and then suffocate on its own vomit. A careful examination of studies of infants placed prone (on their stomachs) has shown that this does not happen. Some infants with certain health problems might best be placed prone. Parents who suspect this should check with their doctor.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Stomium to SwiftsSudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) - The Mysterious Malady, Sids Research, Risk Factors, "back To Sleep" Campaign, Sids In History