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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (Crib Death) Print E-mail

SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a usually apparently healthy infant younger than one year old. Most SIDS deaths are associated with sleep (hence the common reference to "crib death"), and infants who die of SIDS show no signs of suffering. They simply go to sleep and never wake up. The diagnosis requires elimination of other possible causes of death.

SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants who are one month to one year old and claims the lives of about 2,500 infants each year in the U.S. Even though there is no universal agreement on the cause of SIDS, it is nevertheless possible to take steps to help reduce the risk of SIDS. Most important is to put your infant to sleep on his or her back if the baby is younger than one year old.

There are certain risk factors which make a SIDS event more likely. Most deaths due to SIDS occur between 2 and 4 months of age, and incidence increases during cold weather. African-American infants are twice as likely and Native American infants are about three times more likely to die of SIDS than caucasian infants. More boys than girls fall victim to SIDS.

Other Risk Factors

  • smoking, drinking, or drug use during pregnancy
  • smoke exposure following birth
  • stomach sleeping
  • poor prenatal care
  • prematurity or low birth-weight
  • mothers younger than 20
  • overheating from excessive sleepwear and bedding

    The most among these risk factors is stomach sleeping. Numerous studies have found a higher incidence of SIDS among babies placed on their stomachs to sleep than among those sleeping on their backs. This has led to various unsubstantiated theories about the cause of SIDS, including airway obstruction and rebreathing exhaled air. It is also theorized that infants who succumb to SIDS may have an abnormality in the arcuate nucleus, a part of the brain that may help control breathing and awakening during sleep. Another theory involves the breathing centers in the brain stem and the suspicion that SIDS babies have lower levels of serotonin and thus may not respond to elevated levels of carbon dioxide by breathing more deeply. This theory has it that SIDS babies die of carbon dioxide toxicity from rebreathing exhaled air and not responding to it appropriately.

    Many parents fear that babies put to sleep on their backs could choke on spit-up or vomit. However, there is no increased risk of choking for healthy infants who sleep on their backs. For infants with chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease [GERD] or certain upper airway malformations, sleeping on the stomach may be the better option. You should consult with your child's doctor in these cases to determine the best sleeping position for the baby. Placing infants on their sides to sleep is not a good idea, as there is too much risk that the infants will roll over onto their bellies while they sleep. The condition called "positional plagiocephaly" involves the development of a flat spot on the back of the head from spending too much time lying on the back. It is usually easily preventable and treatable by changing the baby's position frequently and allowing for more "tummy time" while awake. Of course, once babies can roll over consistently — usually around 4 to 7 months — they may choose not to stay on their backs all night long. At this point, it is not possible to enforce a sleeping position without the parents staying awake all night.

    The Toxic Gas Theory, Perhaps the Real Cause of SIDS

    To round out this discussion, I will reproduce extensively from this web page: http://www.thecauseofsids.com/Cause_of_SIDS_Jane_Sheppard.htm.

    The most intriguing and sensible theory for the cause of SIDS comes from New Zealand. "Dr. Jim Sprott, OBE, a New Zealand scientist and chemist, states with certainty that crib death is caused by toxic gases, which can be generated from a baby's mattress. Chemical compounds containing phosphorus, arsenic and antimony have been added to mattresses as fire retardants and for other purposes since the early 1950's. A fungus that commonly grows in bedding can interact with these chemicals to create poisonous gases (Richardson 1994). These heavier-than-air gases are concentrated in a thin layer on the baby's mattress or are diffused away and dissipated into the surrounding atmosphere. If a baby breathes or absorbs a lethal dose of the gases, the central nervous system shuts down, stopping breathing and then heart function. These gases can fatally poison a baby, without waking the sleeping baby and without any struggle by the baby. A normal autopsy would not reveal any sign that the baby was poisoned (Sprott 1996).

    "In spite of denial and opposition from orthodox SIDS organizations, no research has disproved this gaseous poisoning explanation for crib death. No valid criticism of this explanation has ever been provided. This logical finding explains every factor already known about crib death, and is backed by scientific research (Sprott 1996, 2000) and eight years of practical proof consisting of a crib death prevention campaign that continues in New Zealand.

    "The fundamental solution is urgent action to eliminate all sources of phosphorus, arsenic and antimony from all mattresses. But this is not happening now, and is not likely to happen anytime soon, so exposure to these gases must be prevented. The intervening solution is to prevent babies from being exposed to the gases by wrapping mattresses in a gas-impermeable cover made from high-grade polyethylene and ensuring that bedding used on top of a wrapped mattress does not contain any phosphorus, arsenic or antimony.

    "A 100% successful crib death prevention campaign has been going on in New Zealand for the past eight years. Midwives and other healthcare professionals throughout New Zealand have been actively advising parents to wrap mattresses. During this time, there has not been a single SIDS death reported among the over 100,000 New Zealand babies who have slept on mattresses wrapped in a specially formulated polyethylene cover. The number of crib deaths in New Zealand that have occurred since mattress-wrapping began in 1994 is about 550. The number of crib deaths that have occurred in New Zealand on a properly wrapped mattress is zero.

    "In early 2002, a German doctor published the results of the New Zealand mattress-wrapping campaign, including statistical analysis carried out in conjunction with the University of Munich (Kapuste 2002). The statistics showed that the proof of the validity of mattress-wrapping for crib death prevention was one billion billion times the level of proof generally accepted by the medical community as proving a scientific proposition.

    "So why isn't this profound and critically important information making the headlines of major newspapers or all over the evening news? Why aren't crib death researchers and the government of the United States telling parents to wrap babies' mattresses? Why are the manufacturers still adding fire retardants and other chemicals to mattresses?

    "There are various reasons, but one possible reason is that mattress manufacturers are required to use fire retardants through government regulations. Admitting that these chemicals are causing deaths would mean admitting to major liability. Furthermore, crib death research has been a significant source of funding for medical researchers in the U.S. Crib death research funding has nearly stopped in New Zealand as more people become aware that mattress-wrapping is easy, cheap and 100% successful in preventing this tragedy. Unfortunately, the ongoing complex and expensive research that leads to the discovery of "risk factors" for a so-called "syndrome" has pushed aside the simple and inexpensive solution of mattress-wrapping; a solution that can do no harm.

    "The main orthodox crib death prevention recommendation is to put babies to sleep on their backs. We know that babies do still die when sleeping on their backs, although face-up sleeping does reduce the risk. The gases are denser than air and tend to settle in a thin layer directly on top of the mattress, so babies sleeping face-down are more likely to inhale a lethal dose of the gases. The gases are also absorbed through babies' skin, and this is one of the major reasons why face-up sleeping provides only partial protection against crib death (Sprott 1996).

    "However, no babies have died sleeping on a properly wrapped mattress. This is crucial information for parents. Eight babies continue to die every night in the United States from SIDS. Parents should be provided with the information so that they are able to decide for themselves whether they want to wait for the SIDS research organizations or the government to endorse mattress-wrapping or to "play it safe" as many parents have done in New Zealand. As Dr. Sprott points out and no one has denied, "All New Zealand crib deaths since mattress-wrapping began in late 1994 have occurred when parents have not wrapped their babies' mattresses. An inexpensive, non-toxic protective cover can surely do no harm."

    "The assumption that our government agencies do everything they can to protect our children is naive. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has stated that BabeSafe mattress covers do not constitute any safety risk to babies. These covers (manufactured in New Zealand) are the only mattress covers designed to protect babies from toxic gases generated in mattresses. Yet even though BabeSafe products are simple, inexpensive, and safe, the FDA requires the manufacturer to go through the expensive, complex, time-consuming procedure of obtaining pre-market approval in order for BabeSafe covers to be bulk imported into the U.S.

    "Instead of putting unnecessary hurdles in the way of a harmless and potentially live-saving product, why don't the authorities endorse mattress-wrapping in the U.S. to see if the results achieved in New Zealand could be duplicated here? The score in New Zealand is now 550 deaths (orthodox crib death prevention advice) to none (mattress-wrapping). With so many more babies born in the U.S. than in New Zealand, the potential to save lives is dramatically greater - thousands every year. Why should even one baby be denied something that could potentially save his or her life? Fortunately, parents can still order the mattress covers to have them sent directly from New Zealand to their home."



  • The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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