Despite improved education on safe sleep, infants are still exposed to multiple risks for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Variability among health care providers continues to exist regarding knowledge of risk factors and the provision of education to caregivers.


To enhance the content and delivery of SIDS risk-reduction initiatives by physicians and other health care providers and to provide them with a context for evaluating their discussions of risks and compensatory strategies, we sought to raise awareness of the frequency of risk factors in SIDS cases, patterns of co-occurrence, associations between modifiable and nonmodifiable risks, and the rarity of cases without risk.


In a population-based retrospective review of 244 (97%) New Jersey SIDS cases (1996–2000), we assessed the frequencies and co-occurrences of modifiable (maternal and paternal smoking, nonsupine sleep or prone status at discovery, bed-sharing, or scene risks) and nonmodifiable (upper respiratory infection or <37 weeks' gestational age) risks.


Nonsupine sleep occurred in 70.4% of cases with data on position (159 of 226). Thirteen cases were of infants who were discovered prone, with an increased positional risk to 76.1%, in which 87% contained additional risks. Maternal smoking occurred in 42.6% (92 of 216) of the cases with data on this risk, and 98% among those cases had additional risks. At least 1 risk was found in 96% of the cases, and 78% had 2 to 7 risks. Of the 9 of 244 risk-free cases (3.7%), 7 lacked data on 2 to 5 risks per case. On the basis of the complete data, only 2 (0.8%) of all 244 cases were risk free. When nonmodifiable risks were excluded, 5.3% of the cases met this definition.


Risk-free and single-risk SIDS cases are rare, and most contain multiple risks. Parent education should be comprehensive and address compensatory strategies for nonmodifiable risks.

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