SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death in infants 1 month to 1 year old.
As a parent, can you prevent SIDS?
One minute you’re cradling your 3 month old baby, wondering how you could have possibly created someone so precious. The next you’re tucking them into their crib for the night—ready to be greeted the next morning. Little did you know, you’d end up waking up to your worst nightmare. Your baby isn’t breathing. This tragic story is all too familiar for parents whose infants experience “sudden infant death syndrome”, otherwise known as SIDS. Sudden infant death syndrome is the leading cause of death in infants. Often referred to as “crib death”, SIDS is when an infant unexpectedly passes away (typically when they are sleeping).
CDC statistics show that every year, about 3,400 infants die of sudden infant death syndrome in the United States. These infants are typically below 1 year of age and generally don’t show obvious symptoms. The difference in SIDS cases vary largely based on race. Statistics show that non-white infants are more likely to have SIDS in the United States than white infants.
Though the causes for this are not obvious, there are many underlying disparities in the healthcare system that could contribute to this. Some include healthcare bias by providers and inadequate access to care.
There is no doubt SIDS is the absolute worst case scenario for parents. Though there is no clear answer on the causes of sudden infant death syndrome, it’s believed to be linked to a few different risk factors.
Risk factors and causes of sudden infant death syndrome
Any baby could have SIDS, and there are typically little to no warning signs when it occurs. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, some factors do put a baby at greater risk of having SIDS. These include:
- Gender: Males tend to have a higher risk of having SIDS
- Age: Infants between the ages of 2-4 months are most likely to have SIDS
- Race: Infants that are not white are more likely to develop SIDS
- Family history: If prior family members have died of SIDS, and infant is at higher risk of having it
- Secondhand smoke: Living in a household where there are smokers, puts a child at a higher risk of developing respiratory problems
- Premature: A baby born prematurely and underweight is at higher risk of developing SIDS
Sudden infant death syndrome can also be linked to defects in areas of an infant’s brain that deal with breathing and waking up from sleep. Like other illnesses, SIDS can be caused by other underlying ailments. Some include:
- Respiratory infections: often infants that die from SIDS, were recovering from a recent cold, which likely led to respiratory difficulties.
- Underweight at birth: babies born prematurely or underweight, are at higher risk of having SIDS
Maternal risk factors that can cause SIDS
In addition to infant risk factors, there are also maternal risk factors that increase the likelihood of a baby having sudden infant death syndrome. These include:
- The mother being under the age of 20.
- Smoking during and after her pregnancy.
- Using alcohol and/or drugs during and after her pregnancy.
- Lacking access to adequate prenatal care.
All of these factors contribute to an infant’s likelihood of having SIDS.
Can you prevent SIDS?
As a parent, I’m sure you’re wondering if you can prevent SIDS. Unfortunately, there is no way to fully prevent SIDS. However, Children’s Hospital notes there are certain things you can do to drastically reduce your baby’s risk of having it. Some of these include:
- Having your baby sleep on their back
- Keeping the sleeping area as empty as possible (don’t let your baby sleep with fluffy blankets and stuffed toys in the crib)
- Making sure your baby’s room is not too hot when they’re sleeping
- Keeping your baby away from smoke and not smoking when you’re pregnant
- Breastfeeding your baby when you’re able
- Giving your baby a pacifier without a neck strap (this should be done after your baby is at least 3-4 weeks old and regularly nursing)
- Vaccinate your baby
SIDS and racial disparities
Statistics taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2018, show non-white infants are more likely to have SIDS. The highest percentage of SIDS cases in the United States in 2018, were found in American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Non-Hispanic Black infants. See below:
Graph taken from the CDC 2014-2018 Sudden Infant Death Syndrome statistics.
Though the concrete causes of sudden infant death syndrome are largely unknown, it’s still important to consider the racial disparities that are present. Parents of infants who are part of minority groups, should take extra caution to ensure their child is receiving adequate care.
The sad reality is that in the United States, people of color are disproportionately faced with healthcare disparities. That’s why it’s your job as a parent to not only advocate for your own health, but you should also for your baby’s health. Checkout “Speak Up! 5 Ways To Advocate for Your Health at the Doctor’s Office”, if you need tips on how to take ownership of your family’s health.
With the right knowledge, you can do your part to help reduce your child’s risk of having SIDS. As a parent, it’s important you’re:
- Regularly taking your infant for check ups
- Keeping your infant’s doctor updated with changes in behavior that could be linked to SIDS
- Advocating for your baby’s health in the doctor’s office
Having trouble finding a service provider in your area that you can trust—especially as a person of color? Checkout Connect 2 Heal where you will be connected with medical and mental health providers of color. It’s time to eliminate the anxiety surrounding healthcare bias, and start working with healthcare providers you know you can trust.
Though the causes of sudden infant death syndrome vary, working with providers you trust will help you reduce your baby’s risk of getting it—and provide you with peace of mind. It’s time for you and your family to take ownership of your health, and get access to the healthcare you need and deserve. By recognizing these risk factors and racial disparities in SIDS cases, you can reduce your child’s likelihood of having SIDS.