Winning the battle to reduce the risk.

Meryn Palmer always imagined the day her first baby would arrive - she just didn't think it would be so soon. Born eight weeks early due to complications from toxemia, baby girl Dylann arrived with underdeveloped lungs, a weak immune system and an inability to eat.

With all the worries that come with caring for a premature baby, Palmer, of Hilliard, was dismayed to learn about one more: As a preemie, Dylann was at a higher risk for SIDS.

SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant younger than one year old and is the leading cause of death in children during their first year of life, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Approximately 2,300 infants in the United States die from SIDS each year, most between two and four months of age.

"Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers on the cause of SIDS," said Dr. Trever Burnett, an internist and pediatrician at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "But there are many correlations that seem to put children at a greater risk."

In addition to children born prematurely, SIDS rates are highest for African Americans and American Indians, and lowest for Asian and Hispanics. Boys are also at a slightly higher risk than girls, as are babies who have previously suffered from respiratory infections or other life-threatening events.

SIDS is not a sickness or a disease, emphasized Burnett. The leading theories suggest that environmental factors or, in certain cases, faulty development in the infant's brainstem neural network may be the cause.

While more research is needed, there are things parents can do to reduce a child's risk for SIDS. Palmer's doctors were adamant about a few things in particular: Dylann was to sleep only on her back and she could have absolutely nothing - no blankets, pillows or stuffed animals - in the crib.

The Palmers are happy that Dylann, now a lively and healthy 4 year old, was kept safe during that turbulent first year and that they received the information they needed.

"There was so much to think about," said Mervyn Palmer, "but we just kept focusing on following the exact guidelines that the doctors gave us and that really brought us a lot of comfort."