The most distressing thing which can happen to a parent is the loss of their baby in the first few months of their life and my heart goes out to all the families that are affected by this horrific tragedy.
Heartbreakingly, 3,500 Australian families go through this tragedy every year, when their baby dies suddenly and without explanation. Cases like this are put down to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS and below we have outlined the top points you to be aware of to reduce the risk – we also advise visiting the SIDS website to learn more about how you can prevent this from happening.
It is also Red Nose day on June 25th and we encourage everyone to contribute in any way they can to help the research and support into SIDS – you can visit the red nose day site here if you are able to donate.
What is SIDS?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is often referred to as cot death, as most of the cases occur when the baby is asleep in its cot or crib. The causes of SIDS are unknown, and research is continuing into why some babies die without explanation. Some of the theories include bacterial infections in the baby, spine injury after birth trauma and problems with the baby’s brain. In all cases of SIDS though, the baby was previously healthy and the medical profession can offer no explanation for the death.
What can I do to prevent SIDS?
Until the exact causes of SIDS are known, there is no injection or drug that can be given to your baby to keep it alive. However, there are certain risk factors which are known to increase risk of SIDS, so by taking simple measures you can lessen the probability of suffering this tragic loss.
- Lack of pre-natal care. Studies have shown that women who do not see a doctor or midwife regularly during their pregnancy are at increased risk of SIDS. It is therefore important to start pregnancy care early, and always attend appointments.
- Maternal smoking. There are a whole host of reasons why pregnant women should stop smoking. Smokers have smaller babies who are more likely to need medical attention after birth, and the mother is doing damage to her own body too. Midwives and doctors can provide support to women trying to give up smoking.
- Sleeping position. Breakthrough research in New Zealand in the late 1980s discovered that babies who sleep on their backs are far less likely to succumb to SIDS than those who sleep on their stomachs. When the UK implemented the “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1991, death rates from SIDS fell by two thirds. Always lie your baby to sleep on their back. Many mothers worry about the risks of choking or vomiting, but these have found to be unjustified.
- Overheating. Babies cannot regulate their temperature as well as adults, and cannot throw off blankets or sheets when they get too hot. Do not cover your baby in too many layers, and consider using a baby sleeping bag instead of more traditional bedding.
- Cot accessories. Fluffy and bulky items of bedding such as doonas, pillows and cot bumpers, or other items in the cot like sot toys can contribute to the baby overheating, and if the baby gets tangled in them, they may find it difficult to breathe. Do not use them in a cot for a baby less than 6 months old. Also ensure that the mattress is the appropriate size for the cot, and there is no room for the baby to slip between the mattress and bed frame, and get stuck.
- Grandparents and babysitters. Advice on safe sleeping has changed considerably recently and grandparents may need to be re-educated about safe sleeping to prevent SIDS. As a parent, you should ensure that everyone who looks after your child knows how to put them in their cot safely.
- Exposure to tobacco smoke. Babies who have parents who smoke are more likely to die from SIDS. This is true even if the parents only smoke outdoors, or in a different room from the baby. It is therefore important that the parents and other adults around the baby make every effort to stop smoking completely.
- More babies die in winter. Although there is little you can do to ensure your baby arrives in summer, if you have a winter birth it is worth taking extra care over issues such as bedding and their sleeping position.
- Location of cot. Babies should sleep in their own cot, next to the parents’ bed for the first six months. Theories suggest that by being close to their baby, parents are more responsive to tiny changes in their behavior or breathing patterns overnight.
Where can I go for further information and support?
For parents who have suffered the loss of a child from SIDS, the best place to go for support is the voluntary Sids and Kids group. They run both a 24 hour bereavement support line and have peer support groups and counselors across Australia to help families come to terms with their loss.