Where You Live May Put Your Infant at Risk

Sudden infant death syndrome rates linked to living at high elevations

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Living on top of the world might not be so good for infants.

A new study found that the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was increased at higher elevations.

Although SIDS has decreased overall in the US in the last 20 years, this study found that babies who lived at higher altitudes had an increased risk of SIDS.

"... Although the overall risk of SIDS is now low, these data suggest that altitude is independently associated with SIDS," wrote lead study author David Katz, MD, of the Division of Cardiology, Section of Cardiac Electrophysiology, at the University of Colorado. "This finding should be considered when counseling expectant families and new parents."

Dr. Katz and team looked at almost 400,000 infants born between 1990 and 2012. All of the children lived in Colorado.

Most US cities and towns with altitudes above 8,000 feet are in Colorado. Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah also have some cities at or above that elevation.

Most of the infants in this study lived at an elevation of 6,000 feet. About 18 percent lived between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. Just under 2 percent lived at 8,000 feet or above.

Past research found that parental smoking, poverty and sleeping on the stomach tended to increase the risk of SIDS, according to Dr. Katz and team. Past research also found that low levels of oxygen in the blood (hypoxia) might also be linked to SIDS.

As altitude increases, oxygen levels in the air decrease. This may mean infants did not get enough oxygen at high altitudes.

Beginning in 1994, the US implemented the Back to Sleep campaign. This campaign encourages parents to put babies to sleep on their backs. Past research showed this sleep position might decrease the risk of SIDS.

Dr. Katz and team confirmed that the Back to Sleep campaign had decreased SIDS deaths by almost two-thirds in Colorado. However, babies who lived at elevations above 8,000 feet still had more than twice the risk of SIDS — even after the efforts of the Back to Sleep campaign.

The good news is that the overall risk of SIDS is much less than it once was. However, babies who live at high altitudes may still face increased risks. Dr. Katz and team recommended doctors take this into account when counseling new parents about safe sleep.

This study was published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
May 22, 2015
Last Updated:
May 28, 2015