Myths about SIDS

Before Xavier died by SIDS, my knowledge of SIDS was limited to Red Nose day and the safe sleeping guidelines, particularly the emphasis on sleeping babies on their backs.  I, like most people, thought following the guidelines was preventive, rather than risk reductive.

Since losing Xavier, I have learned so much about SIDS, some of which I have included on this blog – About SIDS   There are a number of misunderstandings around SIDS.   It is my hope that by discussing these misunderstandings, people become better educated about SIDS and the ways that they can protect their babies.

SIDS cases are actually accidental suffocation
The guidelines reduce both the instance of SIDS and accidental suffocation but they are very different causes of death.   They present differently in autopsies.   In the case of SIDS, the baby has an underlying susceptibility to SIDS. The part of the brain that regulates breathing doesn’t work properly and when faced with a challenge to breathing that a non-SIDS baby would overcome, they cease breathing.   The guidelines aim to reduce the situations in which that challenge would occur.  In the case of accidental suffocation, the baby’s access to oxygen is cut off.   All babies are at risk of accidental suffocation.  Only babies susceptible to SIDS are in danger of dying by SIDS.  There is currently no way to identify that susceptibility.

SIDS no longer exists
The safe sleeping campaign has done great things and the rate of SIDS deaths has reduced by 80% since the introduction of the back to sleep campaign. Despite that, 80+ babies per year in Australia die by SIDS.  SIDS remains the leading cause of death of infants aged 1 month to a year.

In all SIDS cases, the parents haven’t followed the guidelines
There are a numerous cases where parents have followed the guidelines, and still lost their child to SIDS.
In addition, there are cases where the guidelines may not have been strictly followed, but in circumstances outside of a parent’s control.  There are cases of parents who have placed their baby to sleep on their back, and their baby has rolled onto their front in their sleep.  There are cases where babies have died in carseats and prams during afternoon naps whilst the family has been out.   The guidelines are incredibly important and have been proven to reduce the risk of babys’ dying by SIDS, but they do not offer 100% protection.

My baby is really happy and healthy – he wouldn’t die by SIDS
The majority of SIDS babies appear perfectly healthy before succumbing to SIDS.  Some suffer a slight respiratory complaint prior to succumbing to SIDS, but this often presents so mildly that it amounts to nothing more than an unsettled night.   Neither good nor poor health is an indicator of SIDS susceptibility.

I breastfeed.  I am very healthy. I don’t smoke, drink excessively or use drugs.  I am well educated.  My baby won’t die by SIDS
Unfortunately, this profile would fit every SIDS mother I know.  SIDS doesn’t discriminate and whilst breastfeeding and avoiding alcohol, drugs and cigarettes does reduce the chances of SIDS occurring, it doesn’t prevent it.

I use a baby breathing and/or video monitor, so my baby is 100% safe
Monitoring devices have become more easily accessible and that’s a great thing.  Breathing monitors, such as the Orricom and Angel-care monitors offer great peace of mind.  However, they do not replace the safe sleeping guidelines and it is vitally important to follow those guidelines whether using a monitor or not.  In many instances, SIDS is instant and even when parents have been immediately alerted to their child’s lack of breath, they have been unable to save them.  Monitors have no doubt saved babies in the past, but there are also cases where monitors have been used and babies have still died by SIDS.  If monitors were the sole solution to SIDS, they would be the number one safe sleeping recommendation.  They are not.  I think they are a great idea but they need to be used in conjunction with the safe sleeping guidelines.

A reminder of the guidelines

  1. Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side
  2. Sleep baby with head and face uncovered
  3. Keep baby smoke free before birth and after
  4. Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day
  5. Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months
  6. Breastfeed baby

Excellent information about SIDS is available through the SIDS and Kids website

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5 thoughts on “Myths about SIDS

  1. Thank you for this article, Robyna. I have heard so many myths propounded about SIDS – and stillbirth – and some people seem rather inflexible in their ideas. I think it’s really helpful to be able to point out the physiological element to SIDS – that tiny, inbuilt, invisible susceptibility that is often more powerful than any safe sleeping environment. I know just how healthy Xavier was and how perfectly and carefully he was parented, and that he died in spite of this.

    • Thanks Annabel. As we have discussed, it’s very hard for anyone to accept that a baby’s death can occur without a reason and we always want to put distance between ourselves and the possibility of tragedy. Whilst that attitude is completely understandable, it offers no protection from tragedy. But understanding SIDS and the reasons behind the guidelines may. Much love as always to you, Teddy and bump.

  2. Great article Robyna!! Thanks for making SIDS prevention so clear. Can you please let me know why it’s so important to sleep in the same room till 6 to 12 mths. I slept in the same room as the girls till 3 mths for ease of feeding as much as anything. I appreciate hearing Jai breathing at night much more now. Is that the point to be able to hear if there breathing more easily? Ta

    • Thanks Eve. The main reasons are that when in the same room as you, babies are more likely to regulate their breathing effectively. That you are also more in tune with what your baby is doing. The guidelines don’t suggest you watch your baby’s every breath when asleep, but there is evidence to suggest that being in close proximity to your baby does increase your awareness of what they are doing, even when you are both asleep. And of course, it does help with breastfeeding which is another reductive factor. The risk of SIDS dramatically drops after six months and is at its greatest between two and four months.
      This information sheet explains in further detail: http://www.sidsandkids.org/wp-content/uploads/SIDS_SafeSleeping_A4_IS_RoomSharingLR1web.pdf

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