Defining the sudden infant death syndrome

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2003 Mar;157(3):286-90. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.157.3.286.


Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a term that was first proposed in 1969 for a distinctive subgroup of unexpected infant deaths that occur during the postneonatal period with relatively consistent clinical, epidemiological, and pathological features. This term played an important role by focusing attention on a major category of postneonatal infant death, providing support to grieving families, and diminishing the guilt and blame characteristic of these deaths. Unfortunately, the application of this term has become increasingly controversial. Some have applied it too liberally, and others not at all. According to the definition proposed in 1969, despite slight changes suggested in 1989, SIDS remains a diagnosis of exclusion. Although this syndrome has several distinctive features, including age distribution and apparent occurrence during sleep, there has been reluctance to include these features in the definition. The problems created by the lack of an adequate definition are discussed. A 2-tiered approach is suggested, with a more general definition intended primarily for case management and death administration, and a more restrictive one intended primarily for research purposes, which distinguishes those deaths closely fitting the classic SIDS profile from those with one or more less typical features.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Sudden Infant Death / classification
  • Sudden Infant Death / diagnosis*
  • Sudden Infant Death / epidemiology