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Babies between 1 and 4 months old are most at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and 90 percent of cases occur in babies under the age of 6 months. By definition, SIDS doesn't happen after a child's first birthday.
The number of infant deaths from SIDS has declined by more than half since 1992 – that's when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended putting babies to sleep on their back – but SIDS is still the leading cause of death for babies between the ages of 1 and 12 months. Even though there's no sure way to prevent SIDS, you can take steps to reduce your baby's risk.
Researchers don't know what causes SIDS or why the risk drops when it does, but a baby's brain development and maturing physical ability probably play a role. During the first six months of life, explains Michael Goodstein, neonatologist and director of the York County Cribs for Kids Program at York Hospital in York, PA, a baby experiences rapid brain growth and developmental changes that affect sleep patterns, cardiorespiratory control, metabolism, and physical ability.
So when a more mature baby is placed in a sleep environment with pillows or loose bedding, for example, she may be able to lift her head, shift away, or roll over. An older baby can also overcome the risk by waking up and complaining more readily, or by better regulating her breathing.
Another cause of sleep-related deaths in babies is accidental suffocation. These preventable deaths have been on the rise, claiming the lives of almost 1,000 babies a year in the United States.
"Keep in mind that while the rates of SIDS drop off significantly after six months, there are still some babies who die suddenly and unexpectedly up to one year," cautions Goodstein. "Safe sleep recommendations should always be followed up to a baby's first birthday."