by Kimberly Allen, RN
SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome is defined as “the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted, including a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene , and review of the clinical history.” SIDS is the number one cause of death in babies from birth to 12 months old. In the US 90% of SIDS deaths occur between 1 to 6 months of age. It is also more common in the winter months. SIDS is more common in boys than girls and for some reason which is unclear American Indian and Eskimo infants as well as black infants are more prone to suffer from SIDS. A family history of SIDS increases the risk of a new baby suffering from SIDS. There are also maternal factors that can affect a baby’s chances of suffering from SIDS including the age of the mother, babies born to mothers under 20 years of age are more prone to SIDS than those born to mothers over 20 years of age. Also, babies born to mothers that didn’t receive adequate prenatal care, used drugs and/or alcohol or smoked during pregnancy have an increased chance of suffering from SIDS.
Most experts believe that SIDS is caused by a combination of physical factors as well as sleep environmental factors, SIDS is not suffocation, frequently suffocation death is mistaken as a SIDS death. Physical factors that have been linked to SIDS include brain abnormalities, low birth weight and respiratory infection. Some babies are born with a malfunction in the area of the brain that regulates breathing as well as arousal from sleep. Babies that are premature or part of a multiple birth increases the chances that the baby’s brain isn’t completely matured which means the baby’s control over autonomic processes like the heart rate and breathing are unreliable. Some infants that have died from SIDS had experienced a cold shortly before death which experts feel may have contributed to breathing trouble. Experts have also determined that both the environment that the baby sleeps in as well as the position he/she sleeps in also increases the baby’s chances of suffering from SIDS. Experts believe that babies that sleep on their stomachs or on their side can experience more difficulty breathing than babies that sleep on their back. Babies that sleep on waterbeds or thick fluffy comforters are at risk of blocking their airways. Babies that sleep in the same bed as their parents have a much greater chance of suffering from SIDS.
Since the American Academy of Pediatrics initiated the “Back to Sleep” campaign back in 1992 the incidence of SIDS has dropped over 50%. Though there is no way to prevent SIDS that is guaranteed there are several steps you can take that significantly reduce the chances of your baby suffering from SIDS. Research indicates that breast feeding reduces the risk of SIDS especially if your baby is breast fed for the first 6 months. Always place your baby on his/her back to sleep instead of on their stomach or side. It is not a problem to allow your baby to lie on their stomach or side while awake or once they are able to roll over onto both their side and back without help. Always instruct anyone caring for your baby to place the baby on their back when laying them down to sleep. It’s also important to us a firm mattress in your baby’s crib and remove any blankets or stuffed toys. It’s also important not to use bumper pads or pillows in your baby’s crib. When it’s cool use a blanket sleeper or sleep sack to keep your baby warm instead of covering with a blanket. Some experts also believe that sicking on a pacifier when put to bed reduces the risk of SIDS.
When a parent loses a baby to SIDS it is devastating. It’s important to have a strong support system as the emotional support from others can help to get through a difficult time. There are also many support groups that deal specifically with SIDS your doctor or local hospital can help you find one in your area.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.