Incidence of SIDS Increases during Cold Weather: A Winter Alert to All Caregivers of Infants

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), leader of the Back to Sleep campaign, today is issuing a winter alert, once again, urging parents and caretakers to place babies on their backs to sleep to reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Historically, there has been a higher incidence of SIDS in cold weather.

"Parents and all caregivers of infants under one year of age need to be reminded of the importance of back sleeping, particularly during the winter months," said Tipper Gore, Back to Sleep campaign spokesperson. "Babies should be placed on their backs to sleep on a firm mattress with no blankets or fluffy bedding under the baby and no pillows and stuffed toys. It is also very important to keep the baby from becoming overheated. Keep the temperature in the baby's room so it feels comfortable for an adult, and don't overbundle the baby." Experts think the higher incidence of SIDS in the colder months may be attributable to the greater risk of infection infants face during this time or the "overbundling" and "overheating" of infants.

While all newborns under one year of age are at risk for SIDS, certain minority populations are at increased risk. African Americans are 2 ¸ times more likely to have a baby die of SIDS, and American Indians are nearly 3 times more likely. "We must get this lifesaving information to everyone who cares for infants," said U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. "And reaching these high risk populations, in particular, during the colder months is crucial."

SIDS, which strikes nearly 3,000 babies each year, is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant in the first year of life. The causes of SIDS are still unclear, and it is not currently possible to predict which infants might fall victim to SIDS. Recent studies have found defects in some SIDS infants in a region of the brain that may control sensing of carbon dioxide, breathing, and arousal during sleep.

"Gradually, scientists are identifying the underlying problems that may cause SIDS," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. "But until SIDS is better understood and can be prevented, there are some basic strategies to reduce the risk of SIDS. Back sleeping is a simple and easy first step."

Pointing to the dramatic decrease in SIDS deaths since the launch of the Back to Sleep campaign, Dr. Alexander explained that prior to the campaign, 70% of babies in the U.S. were stomach sleeping. In 1997, only 21% were sleeping on their stomachs. Simultaneously, the SIDS rates in the U.S. have dropped 43%.

"The Back to Sleep campaign has been remarkably successful, but we must keep up the momentum," said Tipper Gore. "I ask everyone who hears this message to become part of the campaign, and help us to further reduce SIDS deaths in this country."

Other Back to Sleep recommendations to reduce the incidence of SIDS include establishing a smoke-free zone around the baby, and taking the baby for regular check ups and routine immunizations. Getting early and regular prenatal care also provides a healthy start for any baby, as does breastfeeding, if possible.

Launched in 1994 by the NICHD, the Back to Sleep campaign partners include the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the SIDS Alliance, and the Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs. Tipper Gore became national spokesperson in March 1997.

The NICHD is distributing a variety of free Back to Sleep education materials for parents and health care professionals, including brochures, posters, crib reminder stickers, door hangers, and videos. Most of these materials are available in English and Spanish. To order, call the Back to Sleep campaign toll-free at 1-800-505-CRIB; or write to Back to Sleep/NICHD, 31 Center Drive, Room 2A32, Bethesda, MD 20892-2425. For the latest information on SIDS and the Back to Sleep campaign, visit the NICHD web site at  

The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health, the biomedical research arm of the Federal government. Since its inception in 1962, the Institute has become a world leader supporting and conducting basic, clinical, and epidemiological research on reproductive, developmental, and behavioral processes that determine and maintain the health of children, adults, families, and populations.

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