How Common Is SIDS? Here Are the Statistics Parents Should Know

SIDS is the leading cause of death in children between 1 month to 1 year of age in the United States. Learn your child's SIDS risk by month, plus the latest statistics and rates of sudden infant death syndrome.

babies sleeping in nursery
Photo: Getty Images

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained death of a baby under the age of 1. It is the leading cause of death among infants under age 1, but SIDS risk declines with age with most SIDS deaths occurring before 6 months and the majority falling between 1 and 4 months. While the prospect of SIDS can be scary, it can be helpful for parents to learn the facts about SIDS and what they can do to lower the risk of SIDS.

"Every parent of a newborn should be aware of SIDS," says Cynthia Ambler, M.D., a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine. "I talk about SIDS with the parents in my practice at the very first visit, usually in the first 24 hours of the baby's life. There is no test that can tell when SIDS is going to happen, but there are things that parents can do to lower the chance that it will happen."

When it comes to statistics, here's an important one to start with: SIDS cases have been on the decline since 1994. "The incident of SIDS has declined by more than 50% in the U.S. since the early 1990s when the 'Back to Sleep' campaign was launched," says Dr. Ambler. (The program is now called the "Safe Sleep" campaign.)

According to the CDC, SIDS rates declined considerably from 130.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 35.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. In 2019, that number dropped even more, to 33.3 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Here's a look at more of the latest SIDS statistics in the U.S.

How Common Is SIDS?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020, 1,389 babies died due to SIDS. But in the same year, more infants died suddenly and unexpectedly whose deaths were not attributed to SIDS. Of sudden, unexpected infant deaths, SIDS accounts for 41% of them. To fully understand the statistics, it's important to understand the difference between two easily confused terms: SIDS and SUID.

"SUID is a term used to describe the sudden and unexpected death of a baby less than 1-year-old in which the cause was not obvious before presentation," says William Mudd, DO pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children's. "The deaths often happen during sleep or in the baby's sleep environment. This is an umbrella term that would include SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), accidental deaths (such as suffocation and strangulation), sudden natural deaths (such as those caused by infections, cardiac or metabolic disorders, and neurological conditions), and homicides."

Here are the statistics on SIDS and SUID based on information gathered from the CDC's Division of Reproductive Health's monitoring programs:

  • About 3,400 babies in the United States die suddenly and unexpectedly each year
  • About 1 in 1,000 babies die from SIDS every year
  • There were 3,400 reported deaths due to SUID in 2019
  • There were 1,250 reported deaths due to SIDS in 2019
  • There were 960 reported deaths due to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed

What Is the SIDS Risk by Age?

The risk of SIDS is highest in the first half of a baby's first year, and it decreases over time, peaking between 1 and 4 months. There are some additional SIDS facts that point to risk factors by age:

  • SIDS is the leading cause of death in children between 1 month to 1 year of age in the United States.
  • The majority of SIDS deaths occur before 6 months of age.
  • The majority of SIDS deaths occur between months 1-4.
  • The risk of SIDS appears to be higher in baby boys.

What Are SIDS Risk Factors?

SIDS risk factors include race, ethnicity, and sex. "Other risk factors include maternal smoking, late prenatal care, young maternal age, low birth weight, and premature babies," says Dr. Ambler.

"Based on CDC data, American Indian/Native had the greatest number of infant deaths at 212 per 100,000 live births, followed by non-Hispanic Blacks around 186 per 100,000 live births, and non-Hispanic white infants, around 84 per 100,000 births," says Dr. Mudd. "SIDS rates are lowest among Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander infants."

SIDS is also slightly more common in males than females. There are also other risk factors, such as a 2000 study that found a higher rate (15-20% of all SIDS cases) occurring in daycare settings.

How Can Parents Prevent SIDS?

"A newborn baby will spend most of their day sleeping, even 20+ hours per day," says Dr. Ambler. "You can decrease the risk of SIDS by always having your baby sleep on their back on a flat surface, with no soft objects, loose blankets, pillows or bumper pads. They should never sleep in your bed but should sleep in your room for at least the first 6 months of life."

You can read the full "Safe Sleep" recommendations from the AAP here.

"SIDS is an absolutely devastating situation for families and we want to take all the preventative steps that we can to mitigate the risk," says Dr. Mudd.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles