Every year, thousands of infants die because of SIDS. Learn more about possible causes and prevention.
What is SIDS?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), as the name suggests, is a term that is used when a baby's death cannot be explained even after thorough medical examination.
Some key facts you should know about SIDS:
- SIDS is also known as 'cot death' or 'crib death' because a majority of the affected infants die in their cribs.
- SIDS is strongly associated with sleep. Infants who die of SIDS do not show any signs of pain or suffering.
- SIDS occurs without warning. Most SIDS victims appear healthy before their death. Even doctors cannot predict SIDS.
- SIDS is the leading cause of death in children below the age of one year.
- Most SIDS deaths are seen in infants of ages two to four months.
What causes SIDS?
The exact causes of SIDS are not known. However, it is known that SIDS is not caused by suffocation, choking, and infection. It is also not contagious.
Some researchers are of the opinion that multiple factors may be responsible for SIDS. For example, some infants may have some biological problems such as heart or brain problems. Environmental factors such as sleeping on the stomach may combine with this biological factor to cause death
. Also, SIDS usually occurs in a phase when the infant's organs are undergoing critical development. However, such theories are still being studied and no conclusive proof has been found.
What factors could put your child at risk?
Researchers have identified several risk factors that are associated with SIDS. Remember, these factors may or may not be the causes.
- Gender: Males are at greater risk than females are.
- Age: Babies between the ages of two and three months are most vulnerable to SIDS.
- Weight: Babies with a low weight at birth are at greater risk.
- Premature Babies: Premature babies are at greater risk.
- Smoking or abusing drugs: It is not advisable to smoke or abuse drugs such as cocaine or heroin during pregnancy. Women who do so put their children at great risk. Smoking near an infant also increases the risks of SIDS.
- Sleeping on the stomach: Babies who sleep on the stomach are more likely to die of SIDS than babies who sleep on their backs. Babies who usually sleep on their backs and have just started sleeping on their stomachs are at greatest risk.
- Sleeping surface: Babies who sleep on soft bedding are more likely to die of SIDS.
- Race: According to the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, some ethnic groups such as African Americans are at greater risk.
How to reduce the risk of SIDS?
Remember, prevention cannot be guaranteed in the case of SIDS. Though the causes are unknown, it is possible to reduce the risks of SIDS. Here is what you can do:
- Always place your baby on her back when she is sleeping, even if it is just a short nap. Sometimes, your baby may roll over to lie on her stomach. Gently place her so that she sleeps on her back.
- Keep a comfortable room temperature. Ensure that it does not get too hot.
- Provide a firm sleeping surface to your baby. The surface should be covered with a well-fitted sheet. Waterbeds are a strict no-no.
- Keep soft objects and loose bedding away from your baby's sleeping area.
- Avoid smoking near your baby. Discourage others from doing so. Passive smoking causes a range of health problems. It is necessary that your child breathes in a smoke-free environment for the first year of her life.
- Provide a separate bed or crib to the baby. Babies, in general, are not suited to sleeping in adult beds. In addition, a separate bed reduces the risk of the adult rolling over on the baby during sleep.
- Ensure that the mother of the baby has received adequate prenatal care.
- Breastfeed your baby, as far as possible. It is shown that breastfed babies are less likely to die of SIDS.
Coping with Grief
Parents of SIDS victims may find it difficult to come to terms with their loss. Often guilt arises, as some parents believe that their inferior childcare practices may have caused their child's death.
Talking to a counsellor or trusted friend may help to overcome this overwhelming experience. Also, it is important that both parents keep an open line of communication between them. This is because the death of a child can put enormous pressure on the relationship.
Several support groups and organisations such as SIDS International are present that help parents of SIDS victims deal with their immense grief.