Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
February 2016

What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occurs when a baby dies suddenly while sleeping, and the death remains unexplained even after a full autopsy. SIDS is most likely to occur in babies between 2 and 4 months of age.

What causes SIDS?

The cause of SIDS is unknown but there are clear safe sleep practices that are known to reduce a baby’s risk of SIDS. Some babies, such as premature babies and those with low birth weight are at higher risk of SIDS than others.

What can I do to reduce the risk of SIDS?

Put your baby to sleep on his or her back every time (at night and for naps).
Babies who sleep on their backs are at lower risk of SIDS than babies who sleep on their stomach or sides. Healthy babies and newborns do not choke or have other problems from sleeping on their backs.

When your baby can roll over on his or her own from back to stomach, usually at 5 to 7 months of age, there is no need to return your baby to his or her back if your baby turns over during sleep.

Some babies fall asleep while travelling in a car seat. Take your baby out of the car seat once you have reached your destination. Babies should not be left to sleep in a car seat, a stroller, baby swing, or bouncer seat because their airway may become restricted.

When a baby is awake, he or she needs some ‘tummy time.’ Babies should be placed on their stomachs when caregivers are present and watching. Tummy time helps build babies’ neck and shoulder muscles and prevent temporary flat spots that may develop on the back of a baby’s head.

Place your baby on a firm surface that is free of hazards.
Use a crib, cradle, or bassinet that has a firm mattress, a tight-fitting sheet and no bumper pads, pillows, heavy blankets or toys. Ensure the crib, cradle or bassinet meets Canadian safety regulations.

For more information about Canadian safety regulations and to check for product recalls, visit Health Canada - Consumer Product Safety at For more information on crib safety, see HealthLinkBC File #107 Safe Sleeping for Babies.

Keep your pregnancy smoke-free and give your baby a smoke-free environment.
A baby exposed to second-hand smoke, or whose mother smoked before or after birth, has a much higher risk of SIDS. Do not let other people smoke around your baby, such as family members, friends or babysitters.

Speak with your health care provider if you or your partner need help to quit smoking. You can also call QuitNow helpline toll-free at 1-877-455-2233 in B.C. or visit

Share a room with your baby.
Sharing a room helps protect your baby against SIDS, and it is a safer sleeping arrangement than sharing a bed. For the first 6 months, have your baby sleep on a separate surface in the same room where you sleep. Bed-sharing is not recommended because it can lead to accidental death and it increases the risk of SIDS. For more information about the risks of bed sharing, see HealthLinkBC File #107 Safe Sleeping for Babies.

Breastfeed your baby.
Breastfeeding helps protect your baby against SIDS. Breastfeeding also helps protect your baby from many childhood illnesses. Breast milk is all the nutrition your baby needs for the first 6 months.

Breastfeeding is easier when you share a room with your baby. This means your baby sleeps near you on a separate surface, allowing you to be close to your baby.

For help with breastfeeding, speak with your doctor, public health nurse, registered midwife, or local breastfeeding support group.

For more information about breastfeeding, see HealthLinkBC File #70 Breastfeeding.

Keep your baby warm but not hot.
An over-heated baby has a higher risk of SIDS. You know your baby is warm enough when your baby’s head is warm. A baby’s hands and feet are normally a little cool. Check the back of your baby’s neck, and take off a layer if your baby is sweating there.

The temperature of the room should be comfortable for an adult. A sleep sack, blanket-weight sleeper, or light blanket should be all that is needed to keep your baby warm. Do not swaddle your baby and do not use hats or toques indoors.

Do not use alcohol or drugs.
The use of certain drugs or substances during and after pregnancy may increase the risk of accidental infant death and SIDS. This includes alcohol, marijuana, crack, cocaine, heroin, and others.

If you or your partner needs support to stop using alcohol or drugs, call your local public health unit to find out about services in your area. You can also call the Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service: in Greater Vancouver call 604-660-9382 and in other areas of B.C. call toll-free 1-800-663-1441.

Share this information with anyone who may take care of your baby; it is important for all parents, babysitters and caregivers to be informed about how to reduce the risk of SIDS. For a safe sleeping resource for parents and caregivers see Every Sleep Counts! at (PDF 1.04 MB)

What if your baby has died from SIDS?

If you have lost a baby to SIDS, remember that not all cases of SIDS can be prevented. Following the tips in this HealthLinkBC File can reduce the risks, but the causes of SIDS are still unknown.

There are people who can help you during the time of your grief. Your health care provider can help you to find counselling or a parent support group. You can also call the BC Bereavement Helpline, toll free 1-877-779-2223 or visit

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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