SIDS: sudden death of a baby

SIDS is the sudden onset of death in babies and young children under two years old. Many young parents fear this sudden death, especially because it is difficult to prevent. By excluding a number of risk factors, the risk of cot death can be reduced. What causes cot death and does it also occur in adults?

What is cot death?

Cot death is the Dutch name for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which means sudden death in babies without a medical cause. Many new parents are afraid that their baby will die from cot death. It is a sometimes unpreventable cause of death that has no signs. In the Netherlands, 1 in 7,000 children under the age of two die from cot death. In America, 1 in 2,000 babies die from SIDS.


The breathing stimulus is present in everyone; the brain continuously gives the lungs a stimulus to breathe. This is something that happens automatically and we don’t have to think about it. In young babies this sometimes goes wrong: the brain no longer transmits stimuli and the lungs stop breathing. The brain, in turn, does not receive the signal that the baby is choking. The consequence is quickly noticeable: death occurs.
Certain environmental substances can prevent the brain from properly picking up or transmitting signals, tobacco smoke, for example, is a culprit. Sedatives that are sometimes prescribed to the baby can also cause cot death. The former bumper pads, which are sometimes still found in cribs and cribs, can hinder the baby’s breathing. Just like too many cuddly toys in the crib or letting the baby sleep on the stomach. In America, babies are often placed in their parents’ bed. There is also a higher number of cot death cases. Dressing too warmly or getting tangled in bedding are also causes of the dreaded cot death.
An abnormality in the nervous system can sometimes cause cot death. Some babies have an imbalance of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences sleep, mood, appetite and pain stimulus processing. A disturbed balance causes, among other things, changing breathing. Boys have fewer serotonin receptors than girls, which means they respond more slowly to disturbed breathing. For this reason, cot death also occurs more often in boys.

SIDS in adults

Cot death also sometimes occurs in adults. This is then called Sudden Adult Death syndrome. It is a sudden death without a medically apparent reason for it. Often the victims are not familiar with heart problems or breathing problems. Cardiac arrhythmias are often noticeable just before death. SADS is relatively uncommon among adults.

Preventing cot death

SIDS cannot always be prevented. Something may be wrong in the brain or not sufficiently developed, without this being noticeable. However, there has been a large decline in cot death in recent years, partly due to a number of risk factors. First of all, connecting the baby to an alarm has no effect whatsoever. There are alarm mattresses or an alarm that is connected to the diaper. These devices do not prevent cot death, but manufacturers take advantage of parents’ fears to sell these products. Babies with heart problems or breathing problems are connected to a monitor, but this has little to do with cot death.

  • Do not let the baby sleep in the bed with adults or other children. There is a good chance that the baby will become suffocated against one of the parents or in the mattress or bedding.
  • Buy a ventilated mattress for the baby.
  • Let the baby sleep on the back. Turn the baby back onto their back when they turn to the prone position. This is especially true for children up to four months old.
  • Do not use bumpers in the crib. There’s no way the baby will get hurt. Ventilation is important.
  • Do not dress the baby too warmly or cover him too warmly. A sleeping bag offers more safety than a thick blanket under which the baby can disappear.
  • Do not give the baby sedatives or sleeping pills, as these can remove the stimulus for breathing. A crying baby can be comforted better.
  • Do not smoke in areas where the baby is staying. Pregnant women should certainly not smoke.
  • Do not leave the baby alone in the house. Check regularly to see if everything is going normally and if there are no hugs in the way.

Since parents have been made aware of these risk factors, the number of cot death cases has fallen sharply. However, cot death can never be completely prevented.

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