Infant death scene investigation and the assessment of potential risk factors for asphyxia: a review of 209 sudden unexpected infant deaths

J Forensic Sci. 2007 Jul;52(4):924-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2007.00477.x. Epub 2007 Jun 6.


At the Wayne County Medical Examiner Office (WCMEO) in Detroit, Michigan, from 2001 to 2004, thorough scene investigations were performed on 209 sudden and unexpected infant deaths, ages 3 days to 12 months. The 209 cases were reviewed to assess the position of the infant at the time of discovery and identify potential risk factors for asphyxia including bed sharing, witnessed overlay, wedging, strangulation, prone position, obstruction of the nose and mouth, coverage of the head by bedding and sleeping on a couch. Overall, one or more potential risk factors were identified in 178 of 209 cases (85.2%). The increasing awareness of infant positions at death has led to a dramatic reduction in the diagnosis of sudden infant death syndrome at the WCMEO. This study suggests that asphyxia plays a greater role in many sudden infant deaths than has been historically attributed to it.

MeSH terms

  • Asphyxia / etiology*
  • Forensic Sciences / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Michigan
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology*