Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Nearly 3,000 seemingly healthy babies die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, each year in the United States, making it the leading cause of death among infants who are between 1 month and 1 year old. The cause of SIDS remains a mystery, although recent scientific breakthroughs hold the hope of prevention.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant younger than one year old. It rarely occurs in babies younger than two weeks or older than six months - most deaths occur in infants between two and four months - and the incidence of SIDS is greatest during cold weather, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Often referred to as "crib death," SIDS is usually associated with sleeping and the infants often show no signs of trauma or suffering. African-American infants are two times more likely to die of SIDS than white infants, Native Americans are about three times more likely than whites, and more boys than girls fall victim to SIDS. Other potential risk factors include:
smoking, drinking, or drug use during pregnancy
poor prenatal care
premature birth or low birth weight (less than 4.4 pounds)
mother is younger than 20
infant's exposure to smoke
putting the infant to sleep on his stomach
a sibling of the infant's died of SIDS
Many researchers believe that the cause of SIDS may be a combination of several factors, including vomiting or choking, birth defects, suffocation, infection, metabolic abnormalities, and abnormalities in the area of the brain that controls breathing. Researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston recently linked abnormalities in the brain's serotonin system - which regulates breathing, blood pressure, body heat, sensitivity to carbon dioxide, and arousal - to SIDS. The scientists now believe that serotonin acts like an alarm if a baby's oxygen supply is compromised during sleep, such as when the baby sleeps face down or if their face is covered by bedding. In these situations, the baby is in danger of rebreathing their own exhaled carbon dioxide and in a normal baby, serotonin would stimulate the baby to wake up, turn his head and breathe faster to restore oxygen levels. However, in SIDS babies, that alarm is never triggered.
Babies who are put to sleep on their stomachs are 12.9 times more likely to die from SIDS than babies who sleep on their backs. A soft mattress or lots of bedding can create a small enclosure around the baby's face, trapping her low-oxygen, exhaled air, which could eventually contribute to SIDS.
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