Sudden Infant Death

For a long time, sudden infant death syndrome was an unfathomable phenomenon for science, from which thousands of infants died every year. But now at least risk factors can be identified and precautions taken to reduce the risk of this terrible event. Nevertheless, the sudden infant death is still the most common way of dying of small children before the end of the first year of life in Germany, which kills about 300 babies every year.

Sudden Infant Death

What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

Sudden infant death is always present when an infant dies completely unexpectedly and unexpectedly without any previous signs of illness or unusual behavior and even an autopsy cannot provide any clues as to the cause of death. See polyhobbies for Meanings of Hypotrichosis with Juvenile Macular Dystrophy.

As a rule, death occurs during the night and is only noticed after some time, since the parents consider the silent and motionless baby to be asleep. Those deaths that occur surprisingly and suddenly but can be explained and proven medically, such as heart failure or an insidious infection, are not referred to as sudden infant death syndrome.


Sudden infant death has occupied medicine for decades and still raises more questions than it answers. However, there are now a number of theses and assumptions – even if they are not 100% verifiable – that provide the reasons for the sudden death.

The most recognized of these is that of suffocation of the child by an abrupt failure of the natural respiratory reflex. Since this mostly happens during sleep, the babies don’t wake up and therefore can’t give any warning signs. However, the exact causes of stopping breathing are still based on under-substantiated theories.

For example, sleeping on your stomach has been cited as an increased risk of respiratory failure. Involuntary, self-inflicted suffocation with a pillow or blanket is also a possible cause of death for many physicians, since most cases occur around the 100th day of life and therefore in a phase in which the children increasingly voluntarily and no longer only move purely by reflex and can thus get caught in pillows or blankets.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

What is fatal about sudden infant death is that it usually occurs without any clear symptoms or signs in advance. Most affected parents find their children unexpectedly dead in bed. Sudden infant death is a diagnosis of exclusion if no other clearly identifiable illness that caused the death could be found.

Accordingly, there are no clear signs of impending infant death. Nevertheless, experts can now identify some risk factors that make children appear as potentially at risk. However, the individual case must always be discussed with the pediatrician. Many affected children have died in connection with an infection of the respiratory tract.

Accordingly, if there are unclear, persistent or constantly recurring signs of an infection, parents should insist on careful clarification by a specialist. It has also been found that children born prematurely and those with a generally low birth weight tend to be more likely to die from infant death. The same applies to children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy or after the birth.

If such risk factors apply, parents should definitely discuss them openly with the doctor. In the event of ambiguities or an individually increased risk, the doctor can prescribe a so-called monitor that monitors the vital functions during sleep. Since these are recorded and an alarm is given in the event of changes, the devices can also help to identify possible signs and initiate further investigations.

Diagnosis & course of disease

Since the cause of death in the case of sudden infant death cannot be determined even during an autopsy, a diagnosis can actually only be made unequivocally by ruling out all other possible causes of death.

This means that often several experts, such as the pediatrician, a pathologist, and in some cases the coroner, since a crime cannot always be ruled out, have to examine the deceased child for all sorts of possible causes of death.

Sudden infant death is only given as the official cause of death after all other possibilities have been ruled out and the medical history of the baby has been thoroughly examined.


Sudden infant death leaves the relatives of the deceased child – above all the parents – emotional wounds that can lead to complications. The shock reactions and the resulting depression often lead to inability to work, ill-considered skipping actions or lead to drug addiction or the like if those affected are left alone with their shock.

Studies have shown that sudden infant death increases the risk of a self-inflicted death for affected parents. The suicide rate among mothers quadruples within the first few years after the event. Fathers were found to have an increased risk of accidents and an increased willingness to commit suicide.

In addition, the life expectancy of parents who have experienced a sudden infant death is reduced on average. The risk of various diseases is increased. This includes cancer and cardiovascular diseases, which again result in consequential damage and complications.

Because the cause of sudden infant death often remains unclear, there is a lifelong burden for the parents. If the event is not processed – through psychological measures and therapies – the search for the reason or a supposed meaning of the incident manifests itself psychologically. This can lead to a very limited world of experience because all resources are expended on thoughts about the deceased child. As a result, social structures, work and personal interests are neglected.


Since, in addition to the infant lying on its stomach at night and being caught in pillows and blankets, smoking during pregnancy also increases the risk of sudden infant death many times over, according to studies, experts strictly advise against it.

To avoid the child lying on its stomach, care should be taken that it falls asleep lying on its back in the evening. However, the child should not be completely discouraged from lying on its stomach, but on the contrary, it should be practiced with regard to lying on its stomach correctly, since complications can otherwise arise if it turns on its stomach involuntarily.

In addition, the use of a special sleeping bag for small children is recommended, which does not require any pillows or blankets lying around. Furthermore, breastfeeding also has a positive effect on the baby and can also slightly reduce the risk of sudden infant death.

Thanks to the newly gained knowledge of research and empiricism, many risk factors for sudden infant death can already be recognized today and minimized by correct behavior. Nevertheless, education, especially among young mothers, about such risks and methods of prevention in Germany still leaves a lot to be desired.


The first point of contact after sudden infant death is emergency pastoral care. In a discussion with a trained carer, the relatives receive support and advice on self-help groups and other measures. As part of the follow-up care, the responsible doctor will ask whether care is necessary. Many relatives would like to personally say goodbye to the child.

Religious parents often emphasize the blessing of the child. An emergency baptism can be performed by all baptized Christians, as long as the child has not died for a long time. Siblings of the deceased child must be informed in a child-friendly manner. The best way for parents to do this is to contact the local doctor, who will find the right words based on his experience. Marriage counseling can also be useful for the parents of the child in the long term.

After the death of the child, the marriage is often exposed to a serious crisis. Coming to terms with the grief is an important aspect of processing. Relatives who feel left alone with their grief turn to a therapist or a self-help group. If the mother becomes pregnant again after some time, questions regarding the cause of the child’s death should also be clearly clarified in order to take away the parents’ fears of another incident.

When should you go to the doctor?

If sudden infant death occurs, no doctor can save the baby. This is because the baby’s death is usually not determined immediately, but when the parents next check on him – even a few minutes is enough and no medical attention can save the baby. In such cases, a doctor must intervene immediately after breathing and heartbeat have stopped. Therefore, the only option left is to closely monitor babies with an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. At best, they stay in the hospital until the risk is almost gone.

In this way, they can be connected to medical monitoring devices that will immediately sound the alarm if the baby shows any critical signs. In addition, the paediatricians are present here at all times and can initiate resuscitation in an emergency. Once an at-risk baby is allowed home, the best prevention is to monitor them there too and guide parents on what to do if an emergency arises. The baby should also visit the pediatrician regularlyuntil the risky period is over, so that health problems can be identified and treated in good time. The doctor can no longer reverse sudden infant death syndrome that is noticed too late, but he can help to provide prevention. Affected parents should seek psychological or pastoral help.

You can do that yourself

Sudden infant death often hits families completely unexpectedly. Since the diagnosis of sudden infant death is a diagnosis of exclusion, this means that no other diseases that could have caused the death could be detected in the child. Accordingly, no measures that could provide absolute security are possible in the area of ​​self-help in everyday life.

Because to this day it has not been finally clarified what specifically may have caused the death of the child. Even if there is still no scientific clarity about the exact causes, studies over the years have yielded some indications that may be able to prevent sudden infant death. The supine position is still considered to be significantly safer than the prone position. As long as parents can influence the sleeping position of the child, it is probably safer for the baby to sleep lying on his back in everyday life. Parents should also avoid covering their child too warmly in bed or even putting blankets, towels or cuddly toys on the bed that the child could consciously or unconsciously pull over their head or in the area of ​​their nose.

Studies have shown that children with low birth weight and children of smokers tend to die more frequently from sudden infant death syndrome. Such known risks should therefore be discussed openly with the pediatrician. If necessary, the doctor will prescribe a special monitor for everyday use at home, which monitors the child’s vocal functions during his bedtime.