Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS Facts)

Sudden infant death syndrome may occur unexpectedly in an otherwise healthy baby while it is sleeping. The cause of SIDS cannot be usually identified, even with detailed postmortem examination.Here are some SIDS Facts:

  • The exact cause of sudden infant death syndrome is still unknown.
  • Measures such as placing the babies on their backs to sleep, making them sleep on firm beds, removing all materials which may block their breathing, avoiding overheating, and preventing exposure to cigarette smoke, may help reduce the incidence of sudden death syndrome.
  • Losing a child unexpectedly to SIDS is extremely traumatic and causes guilty feeling in parents. They require counseling and the help of support groups to deal with it.

SIDS, which is sometimes referred to as crib death, occurs at the rate of 1 in 2,000 babies under the age of one year.  One among the most common causes of infant mortality, SIDS mostly occurs in infants younger than 1 year of age, with the highest incidence found in those between 2 months to 4 months of age. Its incidence is higher in infants born prematurely or too small for gestational age, as well as in those who have infections of the upper respiratory tract or had breathing problems at birth.

Infants of Native Americans and blacks are found to be more prone to SIDS, even though the reason for this is not clear. It is more prevalent among economically weaker sections of the society. Infants born to single mothers, women younger than 20 years of age, and those who used banned drugs and tobacco during their pregnancy are at higher risk. Babies whose siblings had died earlier due to SIDS also carry an increased risk.

The exact cause of sudden infant death syndrome is not known. Certain breathing abnormalities may be the reason behind it. Apnea, or prolonged periods without breathing, had been observed in some babies who later succumbed to SIDS. Low oxygen level in the blood is also detected in them. Placing babies to sleep on their stomach is found to be a risk factor for SIDS. Blankets, pillows and soft bedding which may interfere with their breathing also may increase the risk. Sleeping along with the baby on soft beds, cushions or on sofas may cause SIDS.

The common factors which may cause SIDS are known, but there are no sure ways for preventing it. Making infants sleep on their backs at night, and during the day, can definitely help reduce the chances, as it has been observed that the incidence of SIDS have reduced significantly since more parents have been educated in this regard. A firm surface to sleep is also important. The cots and the mattress should be safety- approved and anything which may block the baby’s breathing, such as soft toys, bumper guards, thick blankets and pillows should be removed from the cot. Fitted sheets should be used. Overheating should be avoided as it is suspected to be a cause of SIDS, though not proven. Babies should be protected from exposure to cigarette smoke as it is injurious to their health in addition to being a risk factor for SIDS.

Losing a baby to SIDS is extremely distressing to the parents, as they are totally unprepared for such a sudden tragic event. In addition to grief, they may feel terrible guilt too. The investigations by the police and the social service, which follow the death of the child, add to the trauma. Doctors and other qualified medical personnel should explain the situation to the parents and provide the required counseling to help them cope with the sudden loss. Interacting with other parents who have had a similar experience, joining support groups, and learning more about SIDS by reading and visiting web sites, may be helpful as well.

Precautions to be taken to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome:

  • Infants should be placed on their backs to sleep during the day and the night.
  • They should sleep on a firm bed with a fitted sheet.
  • Objects which may suffocate the infant, such as soft toys, pillows, blankets and loose bedding, should be removed from the sleeping area.
  • Smoking during pregnancy should be strictly avoided and infants should be protected from exposure to tobacco smoke.
  • Infants should have a specific sleeping area, separated from where the adults and other children sleep yet close enough for frequent monitoring.
  • Avoid the infant getting overheated during sleep.
  • Babies should be awake, and closely supervised, when they lie on their stomachs.
  • A pacifier can be given to the infant when it is laid down for sleeping.

Monitors and other products which claim to prevent SIDS are not always dependable.

Watch This Video about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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