SUDI – What is it? and how to prevent it

SUDI stands for Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy.  Each year about sixty babies die a SUDI death in New Zealand.  Most happen in the first six months of life and when a baby sleeps. SUDI is the term now used to describe all sudden unexpected deaths of babies.  It describes:

  • explained deaths such as deaths from suffocation or asphyxia
  • unexplained deaths such as SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) or cot death.

SUDI is a problem of development

The first six months of life are critical for all babies as they adjust to life outside the womb.  Placing babies face-up (on the back) to sleep is essential to their survival through this critical stage.

How babies protect themselves

Babies have an in-built monitor or ‘arousal response’ to protect themselves against life-threatening events during sleep.  This response fails for SUDI babies.  They do not wake up. Arousal is vulnerable in the first six months.

A healthy arousal response protects against SUDI.  It can be weakened by the harmful effects of smoking in pregnancy, as well as by being premature, sleeping on the tummy and being unwell.

Can we prevent SUDI?

Yes!  SUDI deaths are preventable if babies are protected from known risks.  Death rates have fallen dramatically in the past twenty years because parents have acted on safety advice, especially advice to sleep babies on their backs. While some babies continue to die in unsafe positions and situations, smoking, especially in pregnancy is the main factor in SUDI deaths now.

Essential protection

Babies need a package of care to protect them from SUDI.  Every baby needs this care every time and in every place they sleep for their first six months.

Sleep Safe Formula:

Safe sleep = face-up + face clear + smokefree

A fourth principle “in own baby bed” is essential extra protection for:

  • more vulnerable babies e.g. because of smoking in pregnancy, low birth weight, prematurity or not breastfed.
  • more vulnerable situations e.g. when parents are under the influence of smoking, alcohol, drugs or medication, or are very large, extremely tired or heavy sleepers.

SUDI can happen to any baby.  It happens more to babies:

  • Harmed by smoking in pregnancy
  • Born before 36 weeks
  • Born weighing less than 2500 grams
  • Not breastfed