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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

In one of our recent classes, the teacher talked for a while about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS.) I had heard it in passing before, but I didn’t know much about it. The SIDS website defines it this way:

SIDS is the sudden death of an infant under one year of age which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history.

I was surprised to find out that this is basically a catch-all answer for “we have no idea why your baby died.” Wow! In the year 2013, babies are still dying and science can’t figure out why. That’s incredible! All they can do is offer tips for things that seem to correlate with lower numbers of these deaths. A lot of these tips were discovered by studying cultures with higher than normal SIDS rates and understanding what’s different about their culture. Here are some things that lower the risk:

  • SIDS occurs less when parents have babies after their teenage years and when they wait at least 1 year between the birth of a child and the next pregnancy.
  • Infants should always sleep on their backs.
  • They should sleep on a firm mattress in a crib with nothing but the baby (no pillows, no covers, no bumpers, no toys, etc.)
  • Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke.
  • Breast-fed babies have a lower risk of SIDS than formula-fed babies.
  • Offer a pacifier to the baby.

It’s nice to know that there are things we can do to help lower the risk, and hopefully some day they’ll understand what causes this. It turns out that there is an adult version of this too, though it appears to be much less likely.