Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms & Prevention

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Woman holding baby's feet. Image from https://mdhs.unimelb.edu.au/news-and-events/news-archive/improving-health-and-wellbeing-of-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-peoples

The loss of a child is a mother’s worst nightmare. It’s even worse when it happens soon after childbirth. However, this is something that many women have gone through. Newborn babies are at their most vulnerable state and despite being healthy, some experience unexpected death. This is known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It normally occurs in infants between 2-4 months old then the risk decreases. Though the condition is rare, it’s still one of the leading causes of death during an infant’s first 6 months.

Sudden infant death syndrome got its name due to the nature of death. Doctors normally rule out other causes of death before determining that the child died from this syndrome. This is because it’s not clear what causes sudden infant death syndrome. Nonetheless, there are some speculations of its causes.

Causes

  1. Genetics

Families with a history of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are more prone to experience sudden death when a child is born. Additionally, if there’s a history of respiratory illnesses in the family, it’s necessary to keep a close watch over any newborn child.

  1. Secondhand Smoke

Keep your child in a smoke-free environment. Cigarette smoke, especially, contains harmful chemicals that can affect a child’s lung development thus increasing the risk of them dying suddenly. Avoid smoking while pregnant, after giving birth, or around an infant. Additionally, don’t let anyone smoke around your baby. If they have to smoke, they should go outside.

  1. Mother’s Age

The mother’s age may also have a part to play in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. According to research, having a child at 20 years old or younger increases the chances of the child dying suddenly. It’s believed that young mothers are not able to access proper nutrition and prenatal care which affects the child’s development. However, it has nothing to do with the mother’s age.

  1. Prenatal Care

Speaking of prenatal care, this is crucial during pregnancy. It’s important to have regular clinic visits so that you know your baby’s condition. During prenatal care, doctors may be able to note something about the baby that can prevent SIDS. Therefore, children born to mothers who had little to no prenatal care are at a higher risk of sudden death.

  1. Premature Birth

Babies born prematurely are at a higher risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Since the baby’s brain hasn’t matured completely, it becomes difficult for them to control some crucial body functions such as breathing and heart rate. It’s important to keep a close eye on babies born prematurely or underweight babies.

  1. Hypothermia

Children are prone to overheating due to their inability to regulate body temperature. That’s why infants overheat or get cold easily. Irregular body temperature could reach dangerous levels that can trigger SIDS. Therefore, you should avoid using excessive covers which can increase their body temperature significantly.

  1. Sleeping Position

Your baby’s sleeping position can trigger sudden death. Placing them on their stomach while they sleep is one of the most dangerous positions. This can block their airway resulting in death. It can also cause “rebreathing” where the child breathes in exhaled air. This can limit the amount of oxygen going to the brain. It’s best to place the baby on their back while they sleep to ensure they get enough oxygen and are breathing properly.

Symptoms

SIDS can happen gradually or out of the blue. However, there are no clear indications of the syndrome occurring. It normally happens fast and silently that a parent barely notices anything. However, you may notice minor respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms in the last two weeks preceding SIDS. As a parent or caregiver, try to keep a keen eye on the child especially if there’s any medical history in the family.

Prevention

  • Don’t let your child fall asleep in the stroller or car seat for prolonged periods. Move them to the crib where there’s a firm surface to prevent putting a strain on their airway.
  • Avoid putting toys or beddings in their crib. Apart from placing your child on their back while they sleep, you should ensure that the crib doesn’t have anything that can cause smothering or suffocation such as heavy blankets and stuffed toys.
  • Breastfeed for as long as you can. Breast milk contains nutrients that are essential in a child’s development. It protects against respiratory and gastrointestinal acute illnesses which are leading causes of SIDS. It also prevents attacks from bacteria and viruses thanks to its high amounts of immunoglobulin A.
  • Avoid sleeping with your baby. You may have your baby’s crib in the same room as you but don’t sleep with them in the same bed. Your baby is simply not ready for an adult bed and things like blankets and pillows could suffocate them.

Check out How Parents Can Deal With Pregnancy and Infant Loss and What Not To Say To A Parent Who Has Had A Miscarriage Or Lost A Child

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