What Causes SIDS?

A female physician uses an instrument to look into a baby’s ear while the baby is being held by his mother.

We don’t know exactly what causes SIDS at this time.

Scientists and health care providers are working very hard to find the cause or causes of SIDS. If we know the cause or causes, someday we might be able to prevent SIDS from happening at all. You can read about the science of SIDS in other sections of this website to learn specifics about possible causes of SIDS.

More and more research evidence suggests that infants who die from SIDS are born with brain abnormalities or defects. These defects are typically found within a network of nerve cells that send signals to other nerve cells. The cells are located in the part of the brain that probably controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and waking from sleep. At the present time, there is no way to identify babies who have these abnormalities, but researchers are working to develop specific screening tests.

But scientists believe that brain defects alone may not be enough to cause a SIDS death. Evidence suggests that other events must also occur for an infant to die from SIDS. Researchers use the Triple-Risk Model to explain this concept. In this model, all three factors have to occur at the same time for an infant to die from SIDS. Having only one of these factors may not be enough to cause death from SIDS, but when all three combine, the chances of SIDS are high.

Even though the exact cause of SIDS is unknown, there are ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.