Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) tends to be every new parent's biggest fear. Also known as cot death, SIDS is the main cause of death among babies during their first year of life.
Researchers have put a lot of effort into trying to determine why it happens, yet the answers remain unclear. However, and after many studies over the years, there are some theories about the reasons and risks associated with SIDS.
Don't miss the following article, in which you'll find all the updated information about cot death or SIDS and also many suggestions to prevent it or, at least, reduce the chances of your baby suffering from it.
SIDS: A cruel and unexpected goodbye
As its name indicates, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the term used to describe a baby’s sudden and unexpected death. This takes place during the baby's sleep, and it isn't related to any specific cause of death. Also, there aren't any symptoms that can help diagnose cot death before it happens. A newborn can look and behave perfectly healthy and, still, meet such a fatal destiny. That's exactly what makes SIDS so frightening. Only a medical review and an autopsy, which allows ruling out other conditions, will help a professional clear up whether the infant passed away from SIDS.
How common is SIDS?
Besides knowing what it is, all parents may wonder the same thing: how common is it? Well, it's pretty rare in statistical terms. Just think that, in the UK, there are only around 300 cases reported every year. Parents usually find out about it early in the morning or around naptime, when the baby doesn't wake up. Though they don't happen very often, there are also cases in which people realize that their babies stopped breathing but they can wake them up, preventing the terrible ending. If that happens, you should hurry to the hospital to report the incident and have your baby examined.
Cot death or SIDS generally affects babies within their first six months of life, especially during wintertime (the reason, so far, is unknown).
Are there any risk factors?
Though there's still a painful lack of answers related to SIDS, researchers have come to some conclusions. Despite not being completely understood, SIDS has been linked to a combination of abnormalities, such as circulation, bio-chemical and brain problems. Among the latter, the affected infants may struggle to control their breathing and their ability to wake up. Statistically, babies are more likely to die because of cot death, when:
- They are boys
- They are born prematurely
- The baby is born with low birth weight (less than 4.5 pounds)
- Drug use, drinking and smoking by the mother while being pregnant
- The mothers are young, generally under 20 years old
- The baby is overheat during bed time (too much bedding)
Stomach sleeping is generally described as one of the main risk factors that can lead to cot death. Many studies suggest that placing your baby on his stomach to put him to sleep has a noticeable correlation to SIDS. And why? Stomach sleeping may not help them get enough oxygen if they have an abnormality in the part of the brain that controls breathing when sleeping, called the arcuate nucleus. Other theories aim at 'rebreathing', caused by the baby's own exhalation, which makes carbon dioxide accumulate in his body, contributing to SIDS as well.
How can we prevent SIDS?
How can you prevent something when you don't see it coming? As there is no way for you to know that your little one could be affected by cot death, the best thing to do is to plan ahead. Take all the measures to reduce the risk of SIDS, no matter how healthy your munchkin seems to be.
These are some of the most helpful suggestions to do so:
- Put your baby to sleep on his back. Make sure that his head is uncovered by the bedding
- Don't fall asleep while holding your baby
- Keep the cot in your bedroom for the first six months of his life
- Keep the room at an ideal temperature, around 20º
- Avoid using bumper pads in the crib, because they can provoke suffocation. Also, get a firm, flat mattress for your child
- Give up smoking, drinking and don't do drugs during pregnancy (something that is forbidden for a variety of reasons besides the risk of SIDS). When your baby is born, don't expose him to smoke either
- Get regular prenatal care and, after birth, don't skip any baby check-ups
- Use monitors to check on your baby more accurately
Using dummies when putting your baby to sleep can reduce the risk of SIDS. At least, that's what experts defend. Dummies are supposed to strengthen the nerves in control of the baby's upper airway. However, remember that you can't give your baby a dummy until he's fully used to breastfeeding.
How can you deal with SIDS?
Death is always hard to accept, but in this case it is often mixed with terrible guilt. Parents who lose their newborns because of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome will have a shock that probably no one else will be able to understand. They jump from the excitement of welcoming their baby into their lives to a real and sudden nightmare. The lack of answers may turn into frustration and anger towards themselves or, for example, the paediatrician that had been visiting their kid. Professional support is highly recommended, so they can grieve such unexpected loss.
Though talking about SIDS is very difficult, it is also necessary. The idea of a new life being taken away all of a sudden and without clear reasons is horrible, but as a new mum, you need to be aware of it. Working on reducing its risk is all you can do to prevent it, while experts keep trying to figure out how to solve this 'puzzle'. Hopefully, it won't take long until they find its missing piece and they can start saving babies' lives that are threatened because of SIDS. After all, that's what this is about.