SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome, as the name suggests is the sudden death of an infant without any plausible explanation. It is not a disease or condition in an infant but rather the medical diagnosis given when a baby dies suddenly without any apparent cause or explanation. SIDS is commonly known as cot death because many of the incidents occur while the baby is asleep, however, that is not the only time. SIDS can occur between the ages of 1 month to 1 year, however it is more likely to occur among infants younger than 6 months of age. The incidence of cot death in India is far lower as compared to some other developed countries, where it is said to be the leading cause of death among babies.
There has been extensive research on the cause of this syndrome over the years however there seems to be no one absolute cause. Although studies have indicated that infants with underlying health conditions such as immature organ development or irregular breathing and arousal (awakening) functions are more likely to be susceptible to the condition. Another stress factor for infants who are very young can be stomach sleeping or sleeping on very soft bedding that easily sinks in with the baby weight. According to research recently published in the British Medical Journal, 88% of cot deaths can be avoided simply by avoiding co-sleeping with the infant in the same bed, making it the leading cause for SIDS. A study published by the American Medical association in 2010 also found that infants who died from SIDS had lower levels of serotonin in the brainstem, the part responsible for regulating breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure during sleep.
According to experts there are some definite factors that can put some infants in a higher risk category when it comes to SIDS. These are:
• Low birth weight or a premature birth
• Birthing mother being under the age of 20. In India, particularly where child marriages are still prevalent, this can be a considerable risk factor for infant fatality.
• Two pregnancies close together – less than a year apart.
• Any high risk incident can also be fatal for the infant
• Stomach sleeping for infants under 6 months
While it is hard to predict whether or not SIDS will occur, there are a few preventive measures that parents can take in order to reduce the likelihood of this tragic incident:
• Ensure your baby sleeps on the back. Not sideways and not on the stomach. Just taking this simple step can reduce the chances of SIDS occurring by 50%.
• Avoid co-sleeping. Ensure your baby is sleeping in a cot in the parents' /caretaker's room, but not on the same bed.
• Choose a firm flat mattress for your child's cot. Also avoid putting too many objects in the cot itself. You can use sheet clips to ensure the sheets stay firmly in place.
• Avoid using heavy quilts to cover your child during sleep time. Instead dress your child to keep warm or put the baby in a sleep bag for extra cover. Keep in mind, however, that you are not overheating your baby with too many layers.
• Do not use any pillows or head supports while making your child sleep. Also avoid using substitutes such as knotted towels, or dupattas to position your child's head.
• Ensure your child is getting the requisite care before and after birth. This includes keeping a check on your diet, and avoiding habits that can put your child at risk such as smoking or consuming alcohol or, any other drug substance.
• Breastfeeding has been known to reduce the risk of SIDS among infants, among the other health benefits it provides to the child. Also you can use a pacifier during sleep time as this can also help reduce SIDS risk.