Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), SIDS and fatal sleep accidents

Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), SIDS and fatal sleep accidents

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About sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI)

When a baby dies unexpectedly and for no obvious reason, it's often described as sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). SUDI is the main category of unexpected deaths of babies aged between 4 weeks and 12 months in Australia.

When these deaths are investigated, they're often found to be one of the following:

  • Fatal sleeping accidents: this is when investigations show the death was caused by an accident during sleep.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS: this is when investigations can't find a cause of death.

Sometimes SUDI can be explained by a serious illness or a medical condition that the baby was born with.

SUDI is rare and accounts for around 4 deaths in every 10 000 births in Australia.

SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents: common risk factors

Risk factors are things that make something more likely to happen. The main risk factors for SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents include:

  • sleeping baby on the tummy or side
  • sleeping baby on a soft surface (like a soft mattress or waterbed) or on a sofa, with or without a parent
  • sleeping baby with loose or fluffy bedding (like sheepskin or lamb's wool), or with pillows, soft toys or cot bumpers
  • sleeping baby with face or head covered
  • exposing baby to tobacco smoke before or after birth
  • sleeping baby in a cot that doesn't meet Australian/NZ Standard AS/NZS 2172
  • co-sleeping
  • letting baby get overheated - for example, when baby wears too many clothes or a hat or beanie to sleep.

There's no known way to reduce the risk of SUDI for babies who die suddenly and unexpectedly because of illness or a medical problem.

You can reduce the risk of SUDI by following safe sleeping guidelines. You can also read more about safe baby furniture, including cots.

SIDS: specific risk factors

There has been an enormous amount of research into sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, but we still don't know exactly what causes it. We do know that there are some important ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and create a safe sleeping environment for babies.

SIDS is generally more common in winter, in colder climates and in babies who have been born very prematurely. It usually happens between the ages of two and four months, and up to the age of one year.

SIDS deaths seem to happen during sleep. There's usually no sign that anything was wrong with the baby, and no sign during the day or night that the baby was upset or unwell. Sometimes the baby might have had a very mild cold in the days before the death.

Download or print out our illustrated guide to reducing the risk of SUDI and SIDS. You can pin it up somewhere in your home, and give it to anyone who cares for your baby.

Fatal sleeping accidents: specific risk factors

When babies sleep in unsafe sleeping environments there's a higher risk of fatal sleeping accidents.

For example, fatal sleeping accidents can happen when a baby gets:

  • overheated
  • tangled in straps or cords from prams, car seats or blinds and can't breathe
  • smothered by bedding or soft toys
  • stuck between the mattress and the cot, or the bed and a wall.
If you're concerned about your baby's health, see your child and family health nurse or GP.

Impact of SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents

Parents and other family members are understandably devastated by SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. They often feel anger, guilt, frustration and, above all, grief.

Parents often go over every moment in the last few hours or days of their child's life, searching for clues. They might wonder whether their baby might still be alive if they'd done things a little differently. They might feel guilty they didn't check on their baby one last time before going to sleep themselves, or that they didn't wake the baby for a midnight feed.

When a child dies from SUDI including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents, it can affect not only parents, but also brothers, sisters, grandparents, family members and friends.


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