October is SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and while the number of cases of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and SUID (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death) has dropped dramatically since the early 1990s, the need to inform parents of sleep-related dangers remains. Most causes of SUID are preventable, so while the numbers of cases per year could potentially be brought to zero, they have nevertheless remained stagnant over the last two decades. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that about 3,500 babies die each year in the United States due to sleep-related causes.
“SUID includes known causes as well as SIDS,” explains Dr. Kevin Hamann, Pediatrician and Physician Site Lead for Kaiser in Rohnert Park. “About a third of all SUID cases in America are from SIDS and a little bit more than a third are from known causes. The known causes separate them from actual SIDS cases. SIDS is defined as unexpected infant death defined as less than 12 months of age.”
Some causes of infant deaths can include ingestion or entrapment issues, or more rare causes such as infections, metabolic problems and heart issues. However, primary known causes of infant deaths include suffocation and asphyxia, usually occurring in the sleeping environment.
“For that reason we tend to generalize SIDS and SUID as death during the sleeping period,” says Hamann. “It’s an over generalization but in most cases when a death in an infant does occur it’s during that sleeping time.”
The danger of SIDS lasts the first year of a baby’s life, with the highest risk occurring in the first four to six months. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies should sleep on their backs on a firm surface, without any toys, blankets, or other soft bedding and in their own crib. While parents are encouraged to share a room with the baby, it is not recommended to share the same bed, even with special co-sleeping devices.
“Recent research has not refuted any of the recommendations from when this campaign began,” says Hamann. “It really started in 1992 as the “Back to Sleep” campaign and it cut the rate of SIDS in half, simply by telling parents to put their babies in the supine position instead of the prone position.”
One new piece of research completed by a Kaiser researcher also shows that using a pacifier is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. The thought is that a pacifier pushes a baby’s mouth and nose away from any suffocating object, which allows more oxygen exchange so it reduces carbon monoxide accumulation, which reduces the respiratory drive that causes the infant to stop breathing.
Other recommendations by the AAP to reduce the risk of SIDS includes breastfeeding, completing routine immunizations, avoiding exposure to smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs and avoiding sleeping on armchairs and couches. Parents should also ensure that any childcare worker or other family member caring for their children is observing the same recommendations.
“Nothing is worse than this,” says Hamann. “Going to a funeral of a child who died of a known illness is terrible but going to a funeral of a child who died of SIDS - there’s nothing more devastating. I cannot imagine a scenario that is worse than being a parent of a baby who died of SIDS. It is by far the worst experience I’ve ever had as a professional. That’s why we need to drop the number of cases down to zero. That’s the urgency that we are not relaying as accurately and effectively as we should. These are the worst kinds of deaths to ever experience and it affects families for generations and they’re completely preventable.”
For more information on how to prevent SIDS, visit firstcandle.org or aap.org.