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According to Magen David Adom emergency services, infant mortality has climbed steeply in the past six weeks. Since the beginning of December, 12 children under the age of 2 have died, four times the number who died during the same period last year.

On Saturday, a three-month-old baby from Modi'in died in her crib, apparently due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Last week, the condition claimed the lives of a three-month-old baby boy in Holon and a four-month-old in Arad. Also last week, a 20-month-old boy from Ma'aleh Adumim died in his crib at a daycare center.

"Every year, in Israel and abroad, there is a rise in infant mortality in the winter, part of which can be attributed to crib death," the director of the Health Ministry's Department of Mother, Child and Adolescent Health, Prof. Dr. Yona Amitai, explained.

Amitai said some of the recent infant deaths may have resulted from seasonal illnesses such as respiratory infections, which can cause airway obstruction and subsequent respiratory distress. In addition, "some of the reported deaths stemmed from other background illnesses such as birth defect s or metabolic diseases that do not conform to the definition of SIDS."

The Health Ministry is preparing to review all of the infant deaths of the past several weeks in order to determine whether SIDS was the cause.

"Crib death is a rare condition, involving the sudden and unexplained death of infants up to 1 year old during sleep," Amitai explained. "In Israel, SIDS occurs in one out of 3,500 births." According to Health Ministry figures, in 2005 there were 52 incidents of SIDS, most of which (33) occurred in the Arab population. The ministry ranks SIDS as the third most common cause of infant mortality, following premature birth and its complications, and birth defects.

The risk factors for SIDS include: Low socio-economic status; maternal age below 20, or single mother; premature birth or very low birth weight; overheating or overcooling; sleeping on the stomach or the side; exposure to cigarette smoke; co-sleeping (in the parents' bed); overly soft bedding; toxic chemicals in the immediate vicinity.

The Ministry of Health recommends that babies be put down for sleep on their backs, on a firm surface, and with a pacifier, to reduce the possibility of SIDS. It also recommends keeping the room temperature at 21 to 23 degrees Celsius and to avoid smoking near the baby.