Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is a traumatic and tragic disease that affects thousands of babies throughout the world every year. There is no way of explaining the death of a child that has SIDS and there are no real ways of predicting if it could happen to any baby. What makes SIDS even worse is that the source of what exactly may be the cause of it is still unknown. Advanced research in the last 30 years has dramatically reduced the number of deaths. SIDS not only affects the infants but also the families of the infant and it proves to be a very tough and emotional experience for them.
So what exactly is SIDS? The term SIDS was finally defined in 1969 as the sudden death of an infant or child, which is unexpected by history and in which a through post-mortem examination fails to demonstrate an adequate cause of death (Culbertson 3). Basically this is another way of saying that it is not known why these babies die. SIDS is not a new disease contrary to what some people might believe, but it has been happening throughout time, unexplained deaths of babies are even recorded in the bible. SIDS was probably the most neglected disease ever recorded in history of man. It wasn t until recently that major steps were taken to figure out why babies were dying so unexpectedly and what could we do to prevent it from happening.
So what exactly causes SIDS and is there anything we can do to prevent it? Well as of right now, the cause of SIDS is unknown. We do not know what causes SIDS and there are no consistent warning signs that might alert us to the risk of it. However, scientists and researchers have discovered many things that might attribute to the causes of SIDS. SIDS almost always occurs at night when the infant is sleeping. A higher incidence of SIDS is seen among premature and low birth weight children. Women who smoke and let their children be exposed to smoke give their children a higher risk of SIDS. Low birth rates among children have a higher chance of getting SIDS. Finally there is a much higher rate of SIDS when infants are placed on their stomach to sleep.(Culbertson, 8-10) One of the biggest recommendations physicians make to new parents today is to let their babies sleep on their back. Putting them on their back greatly decreases the risk of SIDS to their children. These are just some of the things that have been THEORIZED by scientists and researchers that are possibilities that could be attributing factors to SIDS. But of course these are all theories that have been developed by researchers by statistics. Statistics is one of the greatest tools we have today to help us learn about the characteristics of SIDS. Since we don t know what it is, seeing how it works and what things we can do to help slow it down are obviously good.
Throughout history, before SIDS was defined, the accepted explanation was that either the baby choked on itself or was rolled on by the parents during sleep. Possibly an accepted answer due to the lack of knowledge in the past but know we know that most of the time they were wrong. Since there is no cure for SIDS, scientists and researchers have been studying new ways of possibly preventing it from happening to infants. New nursing techniques developed over the last 30 years have actually dramatically reduced the number of infant deaths caused by SIDS. But still we must not forget the fact we still don t know what causes SIDS itself. That is what makes this so terrible, that researchers have all these techniques to help prevent SIDS but we still don t know what we are preventing.
Death by SIDS leaves a traumatic and terrible effect left on the parents and family members. A SIDS death usually promotes intense emotional reactions among surviving family members. After the initial shock and disbelief, parents often fall into a prolonged depression usually of self-denial about if they killed their baby. This depression can affect their sleeping, eating, ability to concentrate, and general energy level. (Culbertson 190-193) Crying, weeping, incessant talking, and strong feelings of guilt or anger are all normal reactions.
Many parents experience unreasonable fears that they or someone in their family is in danger. Over protection of surviving children and fears for future children is a common reaction. As the finality of the child s death becomes a reality for the parents, recovery finally occurs. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries often trigger painful memories of the loss (Culbertson, 186-188).
Children can also be affected by the loss. Many children may develop a fear that they themselves might die. In many cases children will also feel guilty about the death feeling that possibly it was their fault. However, children may deny being upset and try to hide their emotions which is a reason why most parents have to talk with their children and assure them it is not going to happen to them.(Culbertson,190-193)
One of the true bright spots about the fight against SIDS is that in the last 20 years, deaths caused by SIDS have dropped dramatically in the United States and the rest of the world. Currently the average in the world among SIDS deaths is between 0.5-3.0 deaths per thousand (Culbertson,11). When comparing to that when it was first studied at about an average of 15-20 deaths per thousand(Bergman,10-11), a major improvement has been seen. However, though it isn t that high of a number, it still accounts for 20 percent of all deaths between the ages of one month and one year and 95 percent of that between 2 months and 4 months. (Guntheroth,70-73). It is important to point out that most all statistics of SIDS come from developed countries, countries that have the money to perform autopsies on infants. We can only assume that in undeveloped countries, which have a very high infant mortality rate to begin with, the presence of SIDS is there and probably have a much higher rate than in developed countries because throughout the world, SIDS rates are very constant with one another wherever studies have and can be conducted. SIDS ranks only second to injuries as the greatest cause of death to children who are less than 15 years of age and it takes more lives than leukemia, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy in that age period. ( Bergman, xi).
So in conclusion to all of this, there still is very little information on what exactly causes SIDS. Unlike other diseases, which we know the cause of, SIDS is the one that we don t have any knowledge on what the source is that causes it. One of the most important statements but disheartening is that SIDS is a disease of theories (Bergman, 12). Everything we know, all the information that is produced and published is all just a theory because we don t even know what happened and what caused the death. So where do we go from here? What can be done to stop this terrible disease? Who knows. All we can do is sit back and hope someone s theory is the right one and be thankful that this disease only affects 1-3 infants per thousand born. There are so many questions but not nearly enough answers and until that day we can only do what the experts tell us to do and hopefully the SIDS disease will almost become non-existent.
Culbertson, Krous, Bendell, ed.
Bergman, Abraham B. M.D.
Guntheroth, Warren G. M.D.
1989 CRIB DEATH : The Sudden Infant Syndrome Death
Second Revised Edition Mount Kisco, New York Futura Publishing Company.
Injury Prevention Committee, Canadian Pedrictric Society.