For the study, researchers looked at 900,000 infant deaths between 1983 and 2012 and found the SIDS rate dropped 71 percent during that time. It's thought the safe sleep campaign encouraging parents to place babies on their backs to sleep explains the decrease for the most part. But as lead researcher Dr. Richard Goldstein notes, "We've hit a plateau. And if we're going to get any farther, we need to better understand the factors that make children vulnerable. SIDS is still a mystery, and we need to apply science to try to explain it."
So researchers looked at other factors such as advancements in medical care for premature infants and high-risk pregnancies, and a decrease in smoking rates.
They found certain intrinsic factors may make babies more vulnerable to unsafe sleeping conditions, such as being exposed to secondhand smoke. Underlying biology such as brain abnormalities can also play a role, explaining why certain infants' bodies do not wake them up automatically if they aren't getting enough oxygen.
These factors make up what researchers call a triple risk, and make babies the most susceptible to SIDS. In other words, an infant with an underlying biological risk who is sleeping on her belly and has a mom who smokes is most vulnerable.
Babies who are breastfed and receive proper prenatal care have a diminished risk. Researchers stress, though, that creating a safe sleep environment is still the most important thing parents can do to prevent SIDS.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.