SIDS Program Manual SIDS & Infant Death Program Manual and Trainer's Guide Trainer's Guide

Appendix A

History of SIDS

10th Century

The Holy Bible 1 Kings 3:19 (King James Version) records an infant brought to King Solomon dead as a result of being “overlaid.” Originally, SIDS was described as overlaying. It was assumed the infant died as the result of a neglectful mother laying on him. In early history, a mother whose child died of overlaying was punished.

In Egypt, about the same time period of King Solomon, mothers judged responsible for overlaying were condemned to hug the infant for three days and nights as punishment for their neglect.

The practice of punishing a mother for overlaying lasted into the 17th century.

17th Century

In Sweden, a mother whose child had died was judged by the church. If the church found the mother guilty of overlaying, she was placed in a pillory in front of the church and lost her standing in the church and community. After a public confession, she could be reinstated into the church and community.

In Florence, a device was invented to prevent overlaying. This device was placed over the child while asleep to prevent the mother from rolling onto the infant. A woman guilty of overlaying and found not using this device was excommunicated from the church.

Later, after cribs and cradles had been invented, the idea of accidental overlaying was gradually abandoned. The diagnosis of overlaying could not be applied to an infant who had died in a separate bed than the mother. The diagnosis was changed to “crib death” or “cot death.” This term, along with others, continued to be used well into the 20th century.


Dr. S.W. Fearn noted in a letter to Lancet his postmortem findings of two children which anticipate the current findings of SIDS.


Dr. C.A. Lee published an article in the American Journal of Medical Science on the abnormally large thymus gland in infants as a possible cause of sudden infant deaths.


Dr. C. Templeman published an article in the Edinburgh Medical Journal based on his autopsy and investigative findings attributing sudden infant deaths to suffocation, but he describes typical pathological findings similar to SIDS.