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Researchers ask questions about how babies who die of SIDS might be different from babies who do not.  The brain abnormalities that have been identified are not enough to cause death.  It does however, put a baby at higher risk to die of SIDS. Researchers have developed the triple risk theory (Figure 1) that is often used to describe the series of events that take place when a baby dies of SIDS:

  • Critical Development Period:  91% of SIDS deaths occur in the first 6 months of life, most often between 2 and 4 months.  This rapid growth and development period can make a baby’s system become unstable.
  • Vulnerable Infant:  Represents an infant with this underlying abnormality in an area of their brainstem that controls respiration, heart rate, heat regulation and other major bodily functions during early life.
  • Outside Stressors:  (Outside or environmental challenges) which a normal baby can easily overcome and survive, but that an already vulnerable baby might not.  Stressors such as exposure or an upper respiratory infection alone do not cause death for healthy infants, but could trigger a sudden, unexpected death in a vulnerable infant to second-hand smoke, tummy sleeping 

The triple risk theory illustrates the interaction between the three main risk factors for SIDS.  It is hypothesized that SIDS occurs when all three elements come together.

Unfortunately, at this time, there is no way to identify, which babies are at increased risk.

Source: Reproduced with written permission by Contemporary Pediatrics (2001),  First Candle (2007)