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Mechanical Suffocation is the No. 1 Cause of Infant Death

  • ​Mechanical suffocation is, by far, the leading cause of death for children under age 1.

    Fatal injuries in the first year of life numbered 1,160 in 2013, or about 29 deaths per 100,000, according to Injury Facts 2016®. Mechanical suffocation constituted the majority (80%) of all injury-related mortality cases for infants.

    Infants who die from mechanical suffocation lose the ability to breathe due to strangulation, or smothering by bed clothes, plastic bags or similar materials.

    Is SIDS the Result of Suffocation?


    Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), according to a definition on the Mayo Clinic website, is the "unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old."

    The cause is still unknown, but it does not appear to be suffocation, according to the SIDS Network. In post-mortem investigations, evidence of suffocation is not found in most babies who die of SIDS.

    SIDS may be associated with the brain's ability to control breathing and arousal from sleep, low birth weight or respiratory infection.

    Take Control of Environmental Factors


    While we don't know with certainty what causes SIDS, items in a baby's crib – and his or her sleeping position – can increase risk for impaired breathing and suffocation. Babies can get their faces trapped between a bed mattress and wall or bed frame, smothered by a pillow or blanket, or strangled by a drapery or pacifier cord.

    SafeKids.org offers the following sleep safety tips for infants:

    • Make sure the crib meets standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association
    • If you can fit a can of soda between the crib slats, a child's head, hand or foot can get stuck
    • If you can fit more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib side, the crib is unsafe
    • Make sure there are no broken or missing crib parts
    • Don't use a crib with drop-siderails
    • Remove bumpers, stuffed animals, blankets, pillows and other accessories from the crib; a firm mattress and tight-fitting crib sheet is all that's needed
    • Sleep sacks (wearable blankets) are a safe alternative to blankets
    • Check recalls.gov if using an older crib
    • Don't place a crib, high chair or playpen near windows, draperies or blinds
    • Don't sleep in the same bed with your baby; place their crib or bassinet in your room, and return them to it after feeding or cuddle time
    • Always lay your baby on his or her back for sleeping
    • Lower the mattress as your baby begins to push up to prevent falls
    • Learn infant CPR

    Other Resources


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