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What Is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

Every year, close to 1,400 infants die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the leading cause of unexpected deaths among infants between 2 to 4 months of age. While most SIDS cases occur without warning or explanation, studies suggest other factors may play a part in some infant deaths.

There are no clear causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. There are risk factors that increase the risk of SIDS, both for the baby and the mother. There are also things you can do to help ensure safe sleep for your infant. This section will address each of these in detail.

Causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Researchers have spent years studying SIDS to help determine its causes. Although there is no definitive answer as to what causes SIDS, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that an infant's sleep environment, genetics, and sleep position play a significant role in the number of deaths each year.

Unfortunately, there is no finite list of what may cause SIDS. It remains a leading cause of death for infants. However, medical experts and researchers have devised a list of potential causes of this condition. They have divided them into two categories: Physical Causes and Sleep Causes.

Physical Causes

Physical causes of SIDS include the following:

  • Brain defects at the time of birth: Some babies are born with deficiencies in the brain's ability to tell the body when to breathe and when to wake up.
  • Low birth weight: Babies born with a low birth weight have undeveloped brains.
  • Respiratory infections: When infants have a cold, their breathing is also labored. This makes it more difficult for them to breathe while sleeping.

Sleep Causes

Some of the sleep causes of SIDS include:

  • Sleep apnea: While it is rare for a baby to have sleep apnea, those who do are more likely to have breathing difficulties while sleeping.
  • Sleeping on the side or stomach: It is always best to lay your infant down to rest on their back. When a baby reaches two to four months, they may be able to roll over onto their side and stomach.
  • Soft surfaces: If your baby sleeps on a soft surface, they are more likely to suffocate while asleep.
  • Overheating: You don't want your child to sleep in a room that's too warm. This increases the risk of breathing difficulties.
  • Sharing a bed: While you may want your infant close to you, never let them sleep in a bed with other people. There is too great a chance that they could suffocate in their sleep. You, your spouse, or your sleep partner are liable to roll over on top of the baby, causing injury or death.

Risk Factors Linked to SIDS-Related Deaths

Experts have identified specific risks that increase the likelihood of your infant succumbing to an unexpected death. While nobody can guarantee that your child will not suffer an unexpected, sudden death, there are certain things you can avoid or look out for.

Some of the more common risk factors associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome include:

  • Gender: Male babies are more likely to pass away from SIDS
  • Age: Your infant is at the most significant risk of SIDS between the ages of two and four months of life, but they could be at risk until they are at least a year old
  • Family history: You should ask your loved ones if there is a history of SIDS in your family
  • Second-hand cigarette smoke: Babies who breathe in second-hand smoke have a higher chance of dying from SIDS
  • Premature birth: When your baby is born too early, their brain may not be fully developed, thereby increasing their vulnerability to SIDS

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are also risks for the mother that can cause a child to be more susceptible to sudden, unexpected infant death. The risk factors include the following:

  • Breastfeeding: There is evidence that mothers who breastfeed their infant until at least the sixth month reduce the risks of SIDS
  • Drugs and alcohol: Any mother who uses alcohol or drugs while pregnant puts their baby at a higher risk of sudden infant death
  • Poor prenatal care: You must have proper care and nutrition while pregnant.

If you're currently pregnant or are trying to conceive, keep these things in the forefront of your mind. Sacrifices you make while pregnant can help lower your baby's risk of SIDS.

Other Potential Risk Factors for Sudden Infant Death

In addition to the factors discussed above, other things can cause your child's sudden, unexpected death (crib death). Even if these factors create an increased risk of losing your baby to SIDS by a small amount, it is worth it to take heed.

Some of the external factors that increase a baby's risk of sleep-related infant death include:

  • Defective products and recalled baby items: There have been claims that certain baby products, such as defective bed cords, sleep positioners, and soft bedding, increase a child's chances of passing away from SIDS.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals: Any toxic chemical is likely to cause your baby harm. They can also increase the risk of SIDS.
  • Vaccines: According to the CDC, there is no evidence showing a causal link between immunizations and SIDS
  • Infant's brain chemical serotonin levels: Abnormal levels of serotonin may increase the chance of SIDS.
  • Parents and caregivers alcohol consumption: If you drink alcohol while pregnant or while caring for your child, you put your baby at a heightened risk of dying from SIDS

There is a lot at stake when you consider how devastating sudden infant death syndrome is. Nobody should have to experience the death of a baby. However, your child should be fine if you use your best judgment. You want to be hyper-vigilant until your baby is six to eight months old.

Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

The good news is that there are certain things you and your infant's caretakers can do to prevent a sudden, unexpected death. In response to a growing number of SIDS cases, the AAP initiated the Back to Sleep Campaign in 1992 to help reduce the number of unexplained deaths associated with SIDS and other sleep-related causes of death. The suggestions made more than three decades ago are still relevant today.

Some of the best ways to prevent SIDS include:

  • Lay your infant on their back when they go to sleep
  • Keep your baby's crib or bassinet free of toys, bulky comforters, and other objects
  • Do not use oversized bumper pads
  • Never allow your infant to sleep in a waterbed
  • Provide your infant with a firm sleep surface with a fitted sheet
  • Keep their bedroom at a cool temperature
  • Allow your infant to sleep in your room for the first year
  • Avoid bed-sharing
  • Give your baby a pacifier when they first lie down for a nap

If you practice these behaviors and create a safe sleep environment, you'll help reduce the chances of losing your child to SIDS.

Product Liability Lawsuits and SIDS

There is research showing that certain products may increase your baby's risk of passing away from SIDS. If you believe that one of these products is responsible for your infant's death, you may be able to recover compensation for your loss.

There is no way to compensate someone for the loss of a child. However, a personal injury attorney can fight to hold the responsible party accountable. In your product liability lawsuit, you may need to pursue multiple defendants.

Potentially responsible parties to name in an initial complaint could include:

  • Product manufacturers
  • Distributors
  • Retailers
  • Wholesalers

Your attorney must prove that the defendant was negligent for you to collect damages. Or, if the product is inherently dangerous, the courts may apply strict liability.

If you prevail in your claim against the product manufacturer or other third party, you may recover the following types of damages:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Punitive damages, in limited cases

It will be challenging to win this sort of case. Unless a product has been recalled at some point, proving liability may be difficult.

How Can an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer Help?

If you believe your child died of SIDS as a result of a defective product, you may have a legal claim. It's best to meet with an experienced product liability lawyer as soon as possible after your baby's death. They will need time to prepare your case and work toward negotiating a fair settlement on your behalf.

Personal injury attorneys offer new clients a free case evaluation. This allows you to sit down with an experienced to discuss the facts of your case and discuss legal options. They will review your case and let you know if it's worth pursuing. They will also give you an idea of your case's worth. If you have a case, an attorney can help you prove liability.

Consult FindLaw's product liability attorney directory to find a lawyer near you.

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