NIH Press Release
National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development

Monday, Dec. 16, 1996
9:00 AM Central Time

Ruth Dubois
(301) 435-3457

NICHD Winter Alert to Parents of Newborn Infants:
Increased Incidence of SIDS During Cold Weather

As temperatures spiral downward and snow blankets many regions of the country, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is issuing an alert to parents of newborns. Historically, there has been an increased incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) during the winter season, an increase which experts think may be attributable to the greater risk of infection infants face during the colder months or the "overbundling" and "overheating" of infants.

SIDS, which strikes 4,000 to 5,000 babies each year, is the sudden, unexplained death of infants under age one. However, winter SIDS deaths have been declining in the last few years with the placement of babies on their backs for sleep, says NICHD Director Duane Alexander, M.D.

"Research has now shown that the back position is the best sleep position to help reduce the risk of SIDS. Side sleeping, though better than stomach sleeping, does not provide as much protection against SIDS as back sleeping," said Alexander.

Other tips for decreasing the risk of SIDS during the cold winter months include placing the baby to sleep on a firm mattress and removing fluffy pillows or stuffed animals from the crib. In addition, a smoke-free zone should be established around the baby because infants exposed to smoke have more colds and other upper respiratory tract infections, as well as an increased risk of SIDS.

Finally, early and regular prenatal care provides a healthy start for any baby and breast feeding infants is important since breast milk contains antibodies and nutrients to keep a baby healthy.

The "Back to Sleep" public-private health education campaign, led by the NICHD, has been successful in reaching parents of new babies about the importance of back sleeping. Prior to the initiation of the "Back to Sleep" campaign in 1994, nearly 70% of babies were stomach sleeping. Now, only 30% of babies are stomach sleeping and the SIDS death rate dropped 30% between 1992 and 1995.

The NICHD is distributing free "Back to Sleep" publications and other materials on reducing the risk of SIDS. These materials include: a simplified-language brochure for parents, in both English and Spanish, a brochure for health-care professionals, "Back to Sleep" reminder crib stickers, take-home cards to distribute in hospitals and maternity clinics, posters, and a parent training videotape.

To order "Back to Sleep" materials, write to NICHD/Back to Sleep, 31 Center Drive, Room 2A32, Bethesda, MD 20892-2425, or call toll-free, 1-800-505-CRIB.

The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health, the biomedical research arm of the Federal government. Since its inception in 1962, the Institute has become a world leader in promoting research on reproductive biology, including fertility regulation, and population issues; development before and after birth; maternal, child and family health, and medical rehabilitation.