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
- Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side
- Sleep baby with head and face uncovered
- Keep baby smoke free before birth and after
- Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day
- Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months
- Breastfeed baby
Excellent information about SIDS is available through the SIDS and Kids website