Risk Factors for Suffocation and Unexplained Causes of Infant Deaths

Pediatrics. 2023 Jan 1;151(1):e2022057771. doi: 10.1542/peds.2022-057771.


Background: Observational studies have improved our understanding of the risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome, but separate examination of risk for sleep-related suffocation and unexplained infant deaths has been limited. We examined the association between unsafe infant sleep practices and sudden infant deaths (sleep-related suffocation and unexplained causes including sudden infant death syndrome).

Methods: We conducted a population-based case-control study using 2016 to 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Controls were liveborn infants from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System; cases were from the Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Case Registry. We calculated risk factor prevalence among cases and controls and crude and adjusted odds ratios.

Results: We included 112 sleep-related suffocation cases with 448 age-matched controls and 300 unexplained infant death cases with 1200 age-matched controls. Adjusted odds for sleep-related suffocation ranged from 18.7 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 6.8-51.3) among infants not sharing a room with their mother or caregiver to 1.9 (95% CI: 0.9-4.1) among infants with nonsupine sleep positioning. Adjusted odds for unexplained death ranged from 7.6 (95% CI: 4.7-12.2) among infants not sharing a room with their mother or caregiver to 1.6 (95% CI: 1.1-2.4) among nonsupine positioned infants.

Coclusions: We confirmed previously identified risk factors for unexplained infant death and independently estimated risk factors for sleep-related suffocation. Significance of associations for suffocation followed similar patterns but was of larger magnitude. This information can be used to improve messaging about safe infant sleep.

MeSH terms

  • Asphyxia* / prevention & control
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep
  • Sudden Infant Death* / epidemiology
  • Sudden Infant Death* / etiology
  • Sudden Infant Death* / prevention & control