Sudden infant death syndrome
A medical mystery of early infancy, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—commonly called crib death—kills apparently healthy infants, usually between ages 1 month and 1 year, for reasons that remain unexplained, even after an autopsy. Typically, parents put the infant to bed and later find him dead, often with no indications of a struggle or distress of any kind.
Some infants may have had signs of a cold, but such symptoms are usually absent. SIDS has occurred throughout history, all over the world, and in all climates.
SIDS is one of the leading causes of infant death. Most of these deaths occur during the winter, in poor families, and among underweight babies and those born to mothers younger than age 20.
Although infants who die from SIDS often appear healthy, research suggests that many may have had undetected abnormalities, such as an immature respiratory system and respiratory dysfunction. In fact, the current thinking is that SIDS may result from an abnormality in the control of ventilation, which causes prolonged apneic periods with profound hypoxemia and serious cardiac arrhythmias.
Risk factors for the infant include sleeping on the stomach (up to age 4 months), soft bedding in the crib (up to age 1 year), premature birth, having a history of a sibling who had SIDS, and being born into poverty. Maternal risk factors include multiple births, smoking or illicit drug use, teenage motherhood, short intervals between pregnancies, and late prenatal care.