Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
While many parents worry about suffering a miscarriage or even a stillbirth during their pregnancy, once your baby is born, the thought of losing your child is unimaginable. Sadly, some parents do suffer the horrible distress of losing their baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is a rare complication, but it does occur in all countries throughout the world. Though you cannot prevent SIDS from happening, you can work to lower your baby’s risk for the syndrome by taking the appropriate precautions.
What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?
SIDS is defined as the sudden and unexplainable death of an infant who is less than one year of age. A very distressing occurrence, SIDS usually happens out of the blue while a baby is sleeping in his crib. As a result, SIDS is sometimes also known as crib death or cot death. SIDS is the leading cause of death in children between the ages of one month and one year.
Though it can affect children who are over one year of age, it most commonly affects children between two and four months of age. Most SIDS cases occur in the fall or winter months.
How Common is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?
The number of SIDS cases in North America has steadily been declining in recent years. Unfortunately though, SIDS is still a real worry for parents of newborns, and more than 2,500 infants die every year from the syndrome. Though any infant can be affected by SIDS, the syndrome appears to be more prevalent in boys.
For unknown reasons, certain cultures and ethnicities also seem more likely to be affected by SIDS: African American infants are twice as likely to develop SIDS as Caucasian infants, while Native American infants are three times as likely to develop SIDS.
What Causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?
Unfortunately, there are still no known causes of SIDS, however, there are a number of theories on sudden infant death syndrome.
- Brain Abnormality: SIDS may be the result of a brain abnormality that some babies develop while in the womb. This abnormality occurs in a region of the brain called the arcurate nucleus, which controls breathing and waking during sleep. Typically, if your baby is having difficulty breathing while sleeping, this part of the brain will automatically awaken him to help him begin breathing again. Children with abnormalities of the arcurate nucleus do not wake up automatically and die as a result.
- Stomach Sleeping: Stomach sleeping may also be a factor contributing to SIDS. A large percentage of SIDS deaths occur in babies who sleep on their stomachs. Stomach sleeping may make it more difficult for babies to breathe while sleeping, especially if they are lying on a soft pillow or mattress. Stomach sleeping may put pressure on the jaw, narrowing your baby’s airway, or it could cause "rebreathing," in which your baby continually breathes in exhaled air which is low in oxygen and high in carbon dioxide.
- Infection: Babies who are prone to gastrointestinal infections or respiratory infections may be at increased risk for SIDS. These infections can interfere with how your baby breathes and may impede breathing function enough to result in death.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Risk Factors
Though any baby can develop SIDS, certain infants are at increased risk for developing the syndrome.
Maternal risk factors include:
- becoming pregnant before the age of 20
- having no prenatal care or late prenatal care
- becoming pregnant again less than one year after labor and delivery
- abusing alcohol, drugs, or tobacco during pregnancy
- history of STDS or urinary tract infections
Infant risk factors include:
- stomach sleeping
- having a brother or sister who died of SIDS
- being prone to gastrointestinal or respiratory infection
- exposure to second hand smoke
- low birthweight or being born preterm
- being of African American or Native American descent
Prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
While it is impossible to ensure that your child does not suffer from SIDS, there are steps that you can take to reduce her risk significantly.
Here are some important tips to follow:
- Be sure to maintain regular prenatal checkups.
- Don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs during pregnancy. Prevent your baby from being exposed to any type of second hand smoke after he is born.
- Always lay your baby down to sleep on her back. Be sure your baby is sleeping on a firm mattress or surface. Never put your baby on a waterbed, pillow, or other soft material.
- If you are covering your baby with a blanket, pull the blanket no higher than chest level.
- Remove all stuffed toys and pillows from your baby’s crib before sleep time.
- Put your baby to bed with a pacifier in his mouth for the first year of life. Some studies have shown that regular, consistent use of a pacifier can reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Do not over-clothe your baby at bedtime. Overheated babies are at increased risk for SIDS. Instead, keep your baby’s room at a comfortable temperature and do not cover her head while she sleeps.
- Try to breastfeed if at all possible. Breastfeeding has been linked to decreased rates of SIDS, perhaps because breast milk helps to builds your baby’s immune system against infection.