Sudden Infant Death

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What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is an unexplained and sudden death of an infant under one year of age. It is a major cause of death in infants in this age group, mostly occurring between one month to four months old. Otherwise known as "Crib Death," SIDS strikes nearly 5000 babies in the United States each year. The incidence has gone down significantly.

What causes SIDS?

Nobody knows the etiology (cause) of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It is called a syndrome because medical science still has not found what causes it, or why it occurs, in spite of more than 30 years of scientific research.

Does smoking increase the risk of SIDS?

Yes, the risk of SIDS among infants, who is in the same house as a smoker, and therefore exposed to secondhand smoke, is much higher. No one should smoke around the baby. Babies and young children, who are around smokers, have more colds and other diseases. Even their chances of developing cancer when they grow up could be significantly increased.

Does this happen to healthy babies?

In majority of cases, the infants were healthy, and death happened suddenly and quite unpredictably, usually during sleep.

Is over feeding the baby a factor?

While over feeding was not found to be factor in SIDS, it is always best not to over feed the baby. The Pediatrician's feeding recommendation should be followed and strictly adhered to. If there is any question or doubt, do not delay asking the Pediatrician about it.

How does SIDS kill the infant?

Nobody knows for sure, but it appears that the baby is suddenly unable to breathe or stops breathing, resulting in respiratory arrest and ultimately cardiac arrest. The causative mechanism for this event is not clear either. One can suspect that the upper airway somehow suddenly becomes blocked. Why? Science does not know.

Anything new on SIDS?

Yes, over the past several years, research has learned a very important lesson that can help reduce the risk of having SIDS: Keep the babies on their back when they sleep. Keeping the infants on their back when they sleep has tremendously reduced the incidence of Crib Deaths. The old teaching was that the babies should sleep on their tummy. That advice was abandoned because of the observation that the prevalence of SIDS was very low among those babies who slept on their back, and higher among those who slept on their stomach.

Does sleeping on their back lead to choking?

No, this is not true. There is no evidence that sleeping on their back increases the chances of choking among these babies. As a matter of fact, as we have stated above, the risk of SIDS is a lot lower among babies who sleep on their back. Millions and millions of babies around the world now sleep on their back and doctors have not found an increase in spiting up, vomiting or choking.

Can all babies sleep on their back?

No, there are babies who have health conditions that require them to sleep on their tummy. The include among others birth defects, babies who spits often after feeding, breathing difficulty, heart or lung problems. The individual situation is best discussed with the Pediatrician. Aside from these, all other infants can, and should, sleep on their back.

Can the baby sleep on their side?

Yes, one alternative position is to let the infant sleep on the right side. Make sure the baby's right arm is forward to prevent the infant from rolling over to the stomach. The side position affords LESS protection from SIDS than sleeping on the back. The on-back position is the best. Again, consult your Pediatrician on this matter for advice.

Can the baby sleep right away after feeding?

All infants do. That is why after feeding, the baby should be held with head up (almost sitting position on the lap of the mother) and burping is induced. It is very important for the baby to burp (to let the air out of the stomach) to prevent discomfort of a bloated stomach, and perhaps colic. After burping, the baby may sleep. Make sure the crib is flat, and that the head part is NOT lower than the foot part, to prevent eructation or milk from the stomach flowing out to the mouth.

Can blankets pose a hazard to the baby?

Yes, if it is "free-floating" and not wrapped securely around the infants body, the blanket, or any other material, especially plastic bag or sheets, or toys, can pose a danger to the baby, when any of them cover the face or put in the mouth, causing choking and asphyxiation. The crib must be clean and free of any of these potentially dangerous objects.

Is "tummy time" allowed?

When the baby is awake, he/she can be placed on the stomach, but make sure someone alert and responsible is watching the baby at all time. Some "tummy time" while the baby is awake is deemed healthy for the infant.

Any strategy to reduce SIDS?

Things Pediatricians and SIDS experts advise parents and baby sitters to do to help reduce the risk of SIDS include" (1) Early and regular prenatal medical check-up reduces the risk of SIDS; (2) The mother should not smoke or drink alcohol during or after pregnancy; (3) The baby, from day one, must always sleep on his/her back; (4) The baby must sleep on a firm (but not hard) mattress or surface; (5) Don't use fluffy blankets or comforters under the baby; (6) Don't let the baby sleep on water bed, pillows, sheepskin, or other soft materials that can smother the child; (7) Do not put any stuffed toys or any toys in the crib, which could suffocate the infant; (8) The temperature in the room should be warm but not too warm (between 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit; (9) Babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy have higher risk of SIDS, and babies and children must never be exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke; (10) Breast feeding the baby will help boost the child's immune system and keep the baby healthy.

Should mothers fear SIDS?

Practically all babies are born healthy and they stay that way. While the awareness of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is important, to prevent it from occurring by lowering the risk, mothers should not allow the fear of SIDS spoil their joy and pleasure with the new baby. SIDS are now not as common as before, following the strategy outlined above. Medical statistics are on your side. Your newborn should be fine. Enjoy and have fun with your baby. Ooooops.diaper time!

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.