SIDS is the abbreviated term for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Death of the infant occurs suddenly during sleep and it is a rare phenomenon. Infants from 2 months to one year can develop SIDS and the risk is high for 2-4 months baby. Death is almost sudden and unexpected without any obvious cause or health issue. Each parent should take precaution while putting the infant to sleep and check the atmosphere is completely safe for the baby. SIDS can be prevented fully by following certain guidelines like “Safe sleep strategy”.
Often, SIDS is detected only during investigation or after completing the autopsy. Sometimes the reason of death remains unexplained. In many cases there would not be any sign of illness or distress for the infant during death. Infant would be discovered without breathing and pulse after the regular wake-up time. More than 90% of deaths due to SIDS occur before 6 months of age in infants. SIDS is also known as crib death since most of the time the infants die in cribs.
- Sudden infant death syndrome occurs due to lack of proper respiration during sleep. Babies die within seconds when the respiratory tract is blocked by soft things like blankets or cushioned pillows.
- Death occurs suddenly without any sign of illness during sleep.
- The baby stops breathing.
- SIDS or sudden death does not cause any symptoms. The death of the infant is discovered by the parent or caregiver realizes that the infant has not wake up for long.
- The baby remains lifeless on the crib without any movement.
Lack of respiration or any obstruction in the process of respiration is the major cause for SIDS. In some cases physical factors like low birth weight or brain abnormalities (infants born with brain problems) and history of respiratory infection can cause SIDS. Babies who are put on to sleep on the stomach can have difficulty in breathing which can arrest their respiration within seconds. Sleeping on soft surface with face down can block the airway of the infant. In some cases the infant would cover the blanket on his head leading to suffocation and death.
Who Are At Risk?
Any healthy infant can develop SIDS and sudden death. Boys rather than girls are more prone to die suddenly for unknown reasons. Infants who are in the 1-3 months of period are at high risk of developing SIDS. Infants of certain ethnic groups like American Indian, Eskimos and black are at the risk of SIDS for reasons not clearly known. Infants with a family history of sudden death due to SIDS are more likely to die for the same reason.
Too much of bedding can increase the risk of SIDS since it can lead to overheating and block in respiration. Infants with parents or any family members who smoke frequently are at high risk for death due to SIDS. Infants who are born prematurely and those with low birth weight are at risk of SIDS. Mother who uses drugs/alcohol or smokes frequently can become the cause for SIDS. Putting the infant to sleep in supine position (on his back) is the ideal way to prevent SIDS. Rate of death due to SIDS have reduced considerably after starting the campaign to place infants on their backs while sleeping.
Death due to SIDS occurs instantly when the baby is sleeping. Since the baby does not cry even the parent would not have any idea about the death. Infant would be in good health and well nourished when he/she was put to sleep. In this complicated issue, the exact reason of death can be determined by certain tests and procedures like forensic tests and autopsy. Postmortem lab testing and investigation of the death scene is used for confirming whether the death has occurred due to SIDS.
Lab tests like electrolytes are checked to rule out other causes like electrolytes imbalance and death due to dehydration. This would also eliminate other reasons like death due to infection. Autopsy reports can provide clue for death. In some cases the infant would have had abnormalities in heart/lungs or brain which would have caused death. The main mode of diagnosis is done while reviewing the parents and other family members following the death of the infant. Investigation team would ask questions about the exact position of the baby when he was made to sleep and whether any soft plushy objects was there in the place where the baby is sleeping.
Coping and Support :
Sudden death of the infant would come as a shock for the parent. It is a crucial stage for the parents and family members after losing the child suddenly without any obvious cause. The first thing a mother can do after SIDS is to let out her feelings. Talking to the support group and other parents who have lost their child for the same reason can give comfort. It takes time for the parent to get over the loss.
Tips For Prevention :
Death due to SIDS happens in cases where the babies are put to sleep in wrong position. Hence it can be avoided if you have some knowledge about placing the baby in right position while sleeping. Placing in supine (on his back) position is the best way to prevent sudden death due to respiratory block. Avoid putting the baby on his stomach or side position while sleeping since there is possibility for choking hazard. Don’t add too much of blankets for your infant since overheating increase the risk of SIDS. Never keep your infant’s head covered. Ensure the blankets cover the baby only till shoulder level.
Don’t keep fluffy toys on the babies cradle or near the place where the baby is sleeping. He may press it against his face unknowingly which can interfere with normal breathing. Don’t use soft padding or soft surface like lambskin on the crib where your baby sleeps. In cold countries it has become a practice to cover the baby with extra blankets to keep him warm. But don’t overheat the child. Use lightweight blankets and tuck the cover (blanket) into the foot of the mattress properly. Leave the blankets loosely and even if the baby tries to pull his cover it should not reach above his shoulders.
Don’t cover the head of the infant since it can directly affect his breathing. Don’t smoke and do not let others smoke in the house where the baby is sleeping. Secondhand smoke can also affect the respiration of the child. Research suggests that babies that are breast-fed do not die due to SIDS. Breast feeding certain boost the immunity of the infant and hence follow this practice at least up to one year.