Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as crib death or cot death, takes the lives of 39 out of every 100,000 babies under the age of one each year. While these numbers have dropped from 130 out of every 100,000 deaths annually in 1997, the possibility of this happening to their babies keeps many parents on edge.
SIDS is often referred to as crib death or cot death because it generally occurs when the infant is in bed. The CDC data on SIDS shows that American Indians/Alaska Natives have the highest instances of infant death due to SIDS in the United States, followed by Non Hispanic Blacks and Non Hispanic Whites. Hispanics and Asian/ Pacific Islanders have the lowest rate of deaths due to SIDS in the United States.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is an unexplained death, in an otherwise healthy baby under the age of one. SIDS is also called crib death or cot death, due to the fact that the babies generally slip away while sleeping in their cribs.
7 What Causes SIDS?
While researchers don’t know exactly what causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, they have found that infants who die from SIDS , “are born with one or more conditions that cause unexpected responses to the internal and external stressors common during an infant’s life.”
Researchers feel that by studying the brains and nervous systems of healthy infants, as well as those affected by SIDS, they can determine the cause of what causes SIDS.
The Triple- Risk Model
Current research has led to the theory that three conditions come together to cause “unexpected responses” in infants, which lead to SIDS.
Researchers hypothesize that a brain anomaly makes the infant vulnerable to SIDS. Research indicates that defects or genetic mutations in the parts of the brain that control heart rate and respiratory function play a part in the occurrence of SIDS.
Added to this is the fact that during the first six months of rapid development, in an effort to keep the body in balance, infants go through changes in their sleeping and wake habits. Other changes are also occurring that are unseen as well. Changes in heart rate, respiration and body temperature can make an infant vulnerable to either temporary or permanent altering of the body’s systems.
Lastly, it is believed that certain outside stressors, combined with an already vulnerable baby, help to cause SIDS. Some of these factors include: being exposed to tobacco smoke, overheating, respiratory infection and a stomach sleep position.
The Triple- Risk Model relies on all three of these things to cause death from SIDS in an infant. By removing one, or both, of the outside stressors, you take away one element in the model, thus eliminating or decreasing the risk of SIDS.
6 Genetic Mutations
Research fails to indicate that the mutation of one gene places a baby at a greater risk for SIDS. Mutations in genes can cause issues with the central nervous system, digestive system and immune system can combine with other external factors to raise an infant’s chances of succumbing to SIDS.
It is important to determine if a genetic mutation was present in an infant who died from SIDS. Although the cause of death was SIDS, the genetic mutation was the deciding factor in the infant’s inability to deal with common stressors.
Premature or Low Birth Weight
Babies who are born prematurely or at a lower than normal birth rate are at an increased risk of succumbing to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome because their brains and other body systems are still underdeveloped. If baby is part of a multiple birth, there are increased risks for SIDS, due to lower birth weight or being born prematurely.
Toxic Gasses in Mattresses
Dr. Jim Sprott, a scientist and chemist from New Zealand, blames the occurrence of SIDS on the toxins in baby’s mattress. Government laws that require crib mattresses to be flame retardant use arsenic, phosphorous, and antimony to achieve the required results. These chemicals interact with a common fungus present in mattresses to product a toxic gas. Breathing in toxic amounts of these gasses causes the central nervous system to shut down, resulting in the death of the infant. According to Sprott, autopsies fail to show any indication that the baby has been poisoned.
Dr. Sprott found an increased risk of SIDS in infants who slept on a previously used mattress, due to the fact that the fungal spores are already present, and the process begins more quickly.
Sprott recommends wrapping the mattress in a gas impermeable cover. In New Zealand, midwives reported that out of 100,000 babies who slept on wrapped mattresses, none died of SIDS.
The other alternative is to locate a natural mattress that isn’t treated by the flame retardant chemical cocktail.
5 Cosleeping, Yes or No?
The debate about whether or not cosleeping effects the risk of SIDS has met with passionate debate from parents and healthcare providers alike.
While the jury is still out on whether or not co sleeping increases baby’s risk for SIDS, here are some ways to minimize the risk of SIDS while cosleeping with baby:
- Make sure baby sleeps on his or her back on a firm surface, free from pillows or excessive bedding that could cause baby to smother.
- Place baby next to the mother, not between parents.
- Make sure baby can’t roll out of bed.
- Never co sleep if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or prescription medicines that cause extreme drowsiness.
- Never allow pets in bed with baby.
- Babies under nine months shouldn’t co sleep with siblings.
4 The CDC and WHO Weigh In
SIDS deaths are uncommon before one month old and generally occur between two to four months of age. This has lead many to question a possible link between vaccines and the occurrence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The CDC took note of these statistics, and conducted research on the effects of vaccines, and the role they play Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. After thorough research, that involved the Institute of Medicine, the CDC came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of a causal link between vaccines and SIDS.
Another government sponsored study involved obtaining the vaccine data of children ages one month to seven years who had died of SIDS. It was determined that there was no link between vaccines and SIDS.
The CDC credits the “Back to Sleep” program, that encourages parents to have baby lie on his or her back when asleep. After it’s 1993 implementation, SIDS rates dropped an estimated forty percent.
The World Health Organization addressed the link between vaccines, specifically the DTP vaccine, and SIDS. The agency acknowledges that the majority of infants who die annually from SIDS have recently had a DTP shot.
The organization doesn’t deny this, but claims that the fact that three DTP shots are scheduled during the time when SIDS is most likely to occur is what has caused this causal relationship to be explored.
Citing a study done by The Institute of Medicine for the CDC, the official WHO website has this to say in regards to the link between vaccines and SIDS, “ all controlled studies that have compared immunized versus non immunized children have found either no association...or a decreased risk… of SIDS among immunized children.” The study concluded, “ the evidence does not indicate a causal relationship between vaccine and SIDS.”
3 The Causal Evidence for the SIDS/ Vaccine Relationship
According to the CDC and WHO, the argument for the link between vaccines and SIDS has been disproven and tucked neatly in bed, so to speak.
But researchers, and even the same Federal Government whose agencies deny the link between vaccines and SIDS, are taking a second look at the link between vaccines and SIDS.
According to The Merck Home Manual, which is put out by the pharmaceutical company that currently monopolizes the vaccine industry encephalitis ( swelling of the brain) is caused by the body’s response to infections or vaccine reactions.
In infants encephalitis often presents as follows:
- mild flu symptoms
- crying that can’t be soothed ( also listed as a complication of the pertussis vaccine)
- grand mal seizures with froth and blood at the mouth
- small red or purple spots caused by bleeding into the skin
- excessive sleepiness that results in coma or death
- In cases of autoimmune encephalitis, there is usually no cause found
- Infants whose cause of death has been identified as SIDS generally presented as follows:
- cold or flu symptoms in days/weeks prior to death
- frothy, bloody discharge from the mouth at the time of discovery
- small red or purple spots caused by bleeding into the skin on the thymus,epicardium, and pleura
- infant was put down to sleep and failed to arouse
- no cause of death is found
The parallels between autoimmune encephalitis and SIDS are undeniable. Autoimmune encephalitis can be caused by vaccinations, the manufacturer of the vaccine admits to that fact. Shouldn’t there be further independent studies to rule out the SIDS/ vaccine link all together?
The United Stated Government has paid money to compensate 1,270 families for deaths related to SIDS that were directly proven to be a result of the DTP vaccine. This is a direct admission of the link between vaccines and SIDS, and yet the CDC and WHO stand by their claims that vaccines do not cause or contribute to SIDS.
There are a few things experts agree can help reduce your baby’s risk of death from SIDS:
- When putting baby to bed, back to sleep is best. A baby who is lying on his or her stomach or side is at a greater risk of smothering. Many parents worry that baby will cough or choke while lying on his or her back, health care professionals agree that there is almost no danger of this in a healthy baby. If your baby has digestive issues, or another condition that makes lying on his or her back impossible, ask your healthcare provider for advice on alternate positioning. Once baby can roll from back to tummy by himself or herself, there is no need to worry if he or she turns over to sleep on his or her tummy.
- Keep pillows, fluffy animals, toys, and excessive bedding out of baby’s crib until he or she is older. This will help prevent baby from smothering.
- Don’t let baby get too hot. Keep baby’s room warm, but not hot. Use a lightweight blanket or sleep sack to insure that baby doesn’t get tangled in his or her bedding.
- Babies who sleep in their parent’s rooms have less instances of SIDS, probably due to the fact that the other occupants of the room prevent baby from falling into an extremely deep sleep.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the removal of baby monitors and other monitoring devices, due to the safety threats that they pose.
- Breastfeed if possible. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of SIDS.
- Offering a pacifier can help reduce baby’s risk of SIDS. If you choose to breastfeed, wait until nursing is well established to introduce a pacifier to avoid nipple confusion.
- Talk to your doctor before getting vaccines. This is especially important if baby falls into an ethnicity that is at a higher risk of SIDS, such as American Indian/Alaska Native or African American Non Hispanic.
1 How to Help a Grieving Family
After the loss of an infant due to SIDS, the support of family and friends is a vital part of the grieving process. It is often hard to know exactly how to offer support for grieving families, especially those who have lost someone so young.
Here are a few tips on how to offer support to families after the loss of an infant to SIDS:
- Educate yourself. Before you reach out to a grieving family, learn more about SIDS. It is so easy to say the wrong thing when you don’t know the facts.
- Realize that the family has probably been traumatized by the questions hospital staff and law enforcement have had to ask in regards to their baby’s death. To rule out other causes of death, hospital staff and law enforcement have to ask hard questions to help them to make sure that the baby’s death was the result of SIDS, and not a crime. Although these questions are necessary, the family can feel like they are being blamed for the death of their baby. Be sensitive when you talk to them about these questions.
- Just listen. SIDS survivors may blame themselves for their baby’s death or ask “what if?” A listening ear can be a valuable tool as the family processes this tragedy.
- Avoid cliches such as, “You already have three children, you should be thankful.” or “You can always have another baby.”
- Offer to help with older children, make a meal, or do house chores.
- Attend the funeral. Families of infants who have passed want to know that their babies are not forgotten. Having a funeral for baby is an important part in accepting baby’s death, and acknowledging the all too short time they spent with baby.
The loss of an infant to SIDS is something no family should have to endure. By gaining knowledge and raising awareness, we are working towards finding a cause for SIDS, and eventually prevent SIDS from happening altogether.