Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) still accounts for considerable numbers of unexpected infant deaths in many countries. While numerous theories have been advanced to explain these events, it is increasingly clear that this group of infant deaths results from the complex interaction of a variety of heritable and idiosyncratic endogenous factors interacting with exogenous factors. This has been elegantly summarised in the "three hit" or "triple risk" model. Contradictions and lack of consistencies in the literature have arisen from diverse autopsy approaches, variable applications of diagnostic criteria and inconsistent use of definitions. An approach to sudden infant death is outlined with discussion of appropriate tissue sampling, ancillary investigations and the use of controls in research projects. Standardisation of infant death investigations with the application of uniform definitions and protocols will ensure optimal investigation of individual cases and enable international comparisons of trends.