October is SIDS Awareness Month

NICHD-led Campaign Celebrates 20 Years of Educating Parents, Caregivers, and Health Care Providers

Mother and baby enjoying tummy time together.

While the prevalence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the United States has decreased by 50% over the last 20 years, SIDS remains the leading cause of death for U.S. infants 1 month to 1 year of age.1 This SIDS Awareness MonthExternal Web Site Policy, the NICHD highlights SIDS resources and research to help parents, caregivers, and medical professionals reduce the risk of SIDS.

SIDS is defined as the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year of age that remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation. This includes a complete autopsy, a full examination of the death scene, and a review of the infant’s and family health history.

The exact cause of SIDS remains unknown—in fact, researchers suspect multiple conditions may lead to SIDS—but we do know many ways to reduce a baby’s risk.

The NICHD has been a leader in research on SIDS since the early 1970s. The Institute’s efforts include studies on the causes and mechanisms of SIDS, research on the incidence and prevalence of SIDS, and outreach designed to educate parents and caregivers about ways to reduce SIDS risk. Select a link to learn more.

Public Education Campaign and Outreach
SIDS Research
More Information

Public Education Campaign

The NICHD-led Safe to Sleep® public education campaign, formerly known as the Back to Sleep® campaign, began in 1994. It was created to raise awareness about SIDS and SIDS risk reduction. Twenty years later, the campaign now provides resources for caregivers and community members to promote safe infant sleep strategies to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death, such as accidental suffocation. The campaign is supported by its collaborators, which include the Health Resources and Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, First Candle, and Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs.

The campaign provides information on how to create a safe sleep environment for babies, as well as on ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death, including:

  • Placing your baby on his or her back to sleep for every sleep time
  • Using a firm sleep surface, like a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered with a fitted sheet
  • Not letting your baby sleep on soft surfaces (like an adult bed, sofa, or couch)
  • Sharing a room with your baby, but not a bed
  • Making sure nothing covers your baby’s face or head
  • Keeping pillows, blankets, or crib bumpers out of your baby’s sleep area
  • Not smoking or letting others smoke around your baby
  • Dressing your baby in sleep clothing and not using a blanket
  • Breastfeeding your baby

Safe to Sleep® outreach efforts aim to spread safe infant sleep messages to everyone who might care for a baby. In addition to ongoing efforts to reach populations at high risk for SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death, recent and upcoming activities include a focus on:

  • Fathers—The campaign is piloting activities with community groups in Tennessee to encourage the involvement of dads in parenting and to educate dads and other men who care for babies about safe infant sleep.
  • Grandparents—The campaign is developing a video tailored for grandparents about safe infant sleep and addresses how new moms can share updated safe infant sleep recommendations with their parents.
  • Faith communities—To reach more community members, the campaign is partnering with faith organizations to set up trainings and workshops to spread safe infant sleep messages.

SIDS Research

The NICHD continues to support research that explores possible causes of SIDS and the effectiveness of SIDS interventions. The research is mostly conducted through the Institute’s Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch (PPB). Recent and ongoing efforts include the following:

  • The Institute is investigating the increased prevalence of bed sharing among different populations and how it may contribute to SIDS risk. The PPB supported the now-completed National Infant Sleep Position (NISP) Study, which found that bed sharing has steadily increased among African American and Latino populations since 1993 despite recommendations against the practice from the American Academy of Pediatrics. For more information, see PMID: 24080961.
  • The NICHD also conducts clinical trials on SIDS. One study is the Social Media and Risk-reduction Training for Infant Care Practices (SMART), which was designed to determine the effectiveness of interventions promoting safe sleep practices. Researchers aim to gather information that will lead to improved intervention approaches and more babies placed in safe sleep environments.
  • For more than 10 years, the Prenatal Alcohol and SIDS and Stillbirth (PASS) Network has conducted community-linked studies to investigate the role of prenatal exposure to alcohol in SIDS and adverse pregnancy outcomes. The Network currently runs the Safe Passage Study, which was designed to understand some of the causes of SIDS, stillbirth, fetal alcohol syndrome disorders, and other adverse outcomes. The study will enroll about 12,000 pregnant women in the United States and South Africa and will follow the development of their babies through pregnancy and the infants’ first year of life. The long-term goals of the Safe Passage Study are to decrease fetal and infant mortality and improve child health in communities at high risk of prenatal maternal consumption of alcohol. For information on the Safe Passage Study, see PMID: 25131605.

On the 20th anniversary of the Safe to Sleep® public education campaign, the Institute remains committed to better understanding SIDS and to raising awareness about the ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.


More Information from NICHD


Originally Posted: October 20, 2014



All NICHD Spotlights

  1. Trachtenberg, F. L., Haas, E. A., Kinney, H. C., Stanley, C., & Krous, H. F. (2012). Risk factor changes for sudden infant death syndrome after initiation of Back-to-Sleep campaign. Pediatrics, 129, 630–638. PMC: 3356149
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