How to Distinguish Between SIDS and Child Abuse/Neglect


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How to Distinguish Between SIDS and Child Abuse/Neglect

Dr. Dale Ackley

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome


Deaths: 6,500-7,500 per year

Highest incidences between 2 to 4 months of age during winter months

Physical Appearance

Exhibits no external signs of injury.

Exhibits “natural” appearance of dead baby: lividity – settling of blood; frothy drainage from nose/mouth small marks, e.g., diaper rash looks more severe cooling/rigor mortis takes place quickly in infants (about 3 hours).

Appears to be well-developed baby.

Other siblings appear to be normal and healthy.

PLUS: Parents say that infant was well when put to sleep (last time seen alive).

Child Abuse and Neglect


Deaths: 1,000-4,000 per year

No seasonal difference

Physical Appearance

Distinguishable and visible signs of injury.


Broken bone(s)

Bruises Burns


Head trauma, e.g., black eye



May be obviously wasted away (malnutrition)

Other siblings may show patterns of commonly seen in child abuse and neglect.

PLUS: Parent’s story does not “sound right” healthy or cannot account for all injuries on infant.


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