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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and prenatal maternal smoking: rising attributed risk in the Back to Sleep era

Mark E Anderson1*, Daniel C Johnson2 and Holly A Batal3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Health Services, Division of Pediatrics, Denver Health and Hospitals Authority, Denver, Colorado, USA

2 Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, Colorado, USA

3 Department of Community Health Services, Division of General Internal Medicine, Denver Health and Hospitals Authority, Denver, Colorado, USA

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BMC Medicine 2005, 3:4  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-3-4

Published: 11 January 2005



Parental smoking and prone sleep positioning are recognized causal features of Sudden Infant Death. This study quantifies the relationship between prenatal smoking and infant death over the time period of the Back to Sleep campaign in the United States, which encouraged parents to use a supine sleeping position for infants.


This retrospective cohort study utilized the Colorado Birth Registry. All singleton, normal birth weight infants born from 1989 to 1998 were identified and linked to the Colorado Infant Death registry. Multivariable logistic regression was used to analyze the relationship between outcomes of interest and prenatal maternal cigarette use. Potential confounders analyzed included infant gender, gestational age, and birth year as well as maternal marital status, ethnicity, pregnancy interval, age, education, and alcohol use.


We analyzed 488,918 birth records after excluding 5835 records with missing smoking status. Smokers were more likely to be single, non-Hispanic, less educated, and to report alcohol use while pregnant (p < 0.001). The study included 598 SIDS cases of which 172 occurred in smoke-exposed infants. Smoke exposed infants were 1.9 times (95% CI 1.6 to 2.3) more likely to die of SIDS. The attributed risk associating smoking and SIDS increased during the study period from approximately 50% to 80%. During the entire study period 59% (101/172) of SIDS deaths in smoke-exposed infants were attributed to maternal smoking.


Due to a decreased overall rate of SIDS likely due to changing infant sleep position, the attributed risk associating maternal smoking and SIDS has increased following the Back to Sleep campaign. Mothers should be informed of the 2-fold increased rate of SIDS associated with maternal cigarette consumption.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; SIDS; smoking; infant death; attributed risk