Sleep Related Infant Deaths

In Michigan in 2014, a total of 152 sleep-related infant deaths occurred*.

In the past and through the 1990s, the diagnosis of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was often made when an infant died suddenly and unexpectedly in his or her sleep and no medical cause for the death could be identified. Over the last couple of decades, efforts to improve the quality of death scene investigations in these types of cases have grown statewide and nationally. As a result, better information is now available on the circumstances surrounding these deaths, including details about the infant’s sleep environment.

The use of the term “SIDS” has decreased significantly in Michigan. Due to improved investigations, medical examiners are determining more sleep-related infant deaths to be caused by positional asphyxia (suffocation). If medical examiners do not believe that there is enough evidence in the case to make a suffocation determination, they are more often using the term “Sudden Unexpected Infant Death” (SUID), rather than “SIDS.”

Sleep-related infant deaths are those in which the sleep environment was likely to have contributed to the death, including those ruled SIDS, SUID, suffocation, and other causes. Because of this variety of terminology and the historical prominence of the term SIDS - which was seen as a mysterious and unpreventable type of infant death - the public may be confused about how these deaths actually occur and the importance of following infant safe sleep guidelines in order to prevent them.

In locations where thorough scene investigations and caregiver interviews are conducted, the number of deaths to infants who were known to have been on their backs, alone and in a crib free of suffocation hazards drops to nearly zero. There are many ways that infants’ airways can become blocked during sleep: by suffocation hazards such as pillows, blankets, stuffed toys and bumper pads; by being face down on soft bedding; by couch cushions and other inappropriate sleep surfaces; by becoming wedged between an adult bed mattress and the wall or headboard; and in many cases, by an adult or other child’s body if they are asleep on the same surface with the infant. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) developed a list of infant safe sleep guidelines to prevent these events.

Although sleep-related infant deaths can and do occur in all types of families, there are groups at elevated risk. A variety of socio-cultural factors contribute to the fact that Blacks, American Indians and families with low income experience sleep-related infant deaths at higher rates than do other groups.

Since 2010, Michigan has been one of a number of states funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work within the CDR process to gather very detailed information on every sleep-related infant death that occurs in the state. Fact sheets developed from those data for the state as a whole, and for those counties for which stable rates could be calculated are available at

For specific data requests, please contact us at

*Source: Michigan Child Death Review