Solving SIDS

SIDS is sudden infant death syndrome. For once, I’d call this an over generalization. There are a couple different types of deaths that we call SIDS, and I think that has stopped us from solving the underlying issue. For instance, babies can suffocate, but that’s not SIDS, at least by my definition. We need all cases to be the same to make any progress.

The nature of the name gives us a reason to pile infant deaths together. And I know that I’ve done that in the past with mental illness. In this case, we need to zoom in a little bit to get answers. We’ve confused our own data set here.

Smoking but not breastfeeding, seems to be the major underlying cause. Between all races, classes, and genders. But it does not apply to all cases, because we’ve created such a strange category in infant death.

SIDS is really just an umbrella term we use to describe unexpected and unforeseen infant deaths. There are a couple of main underlying problems, or causes of SIDS. I’m going to divide them into three groups:

  1. Asphyxiation. This group really stands alone. The safe sleep campaign, and back sleeping campaign have helped reduce this cause tremendously. In my opinion, these deaths are not SIDS. But what is SIDS anyways? By our current definition of SIDS, these just don’t apply. I’m glad that we used our own misinformation to save babies, but what I’m trying to do is save more.
  2. Smoking. There is a huge correlation between smoking and SIDS. I have about ten sources for you here.
  3. Breastfeeding. Apparently breastfeeding significantly reduces your chance of SIDS. But knowing what we know now, how in the world is that possible?

So from here, we know that SIDS is a correlation between smoking and breastfeeding. Namely, women who smoke, or expose their kids to smoke, and do not breastfeed are the ones at risk.

Take a look at these SIDS numbers: The rate per 1000 births varies in different ethnic groups in the United States:

  • Central Americans and South Americans: 0.20
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders: 0.28
  • Mexicans: 0.24
  • Puerto Ricans: 0.53
  • Whites: 0.51
  • African Americans: 1.08
  • American Indian: 1.24

That’s interesting, but so what? You look at these numbers, they are very closely tied to the female smoking numbers of the same groups.

Essentially, the smoking numbers completely explain the disparity, except for the big difference between white and black groups. They smoke about the same rates, but black people are twice as likely to die from SIDS.

So let’s keep looking. 

What other “factors” do we have that strongly correlate with SIDS? Breastfeeding. Do black women breastfeed at significantly different rates than white women? Yes.  White women are more likely to breastfeed, and are much more likely to be breastfeeding at six months.

In the most recent US National Immunization Survey, only 66.4% of black mothers initiated breastfeeding in 2012, compared with 83% of white mothers and 82.4% of Hispanic mothers. 2 Racial/ethnic gaps in breastfeeding remained significant at 6 months, with only 35.3% of black mothers still breastfeeding, compared with 55.8% of white mothers and 51.4% of Hispanic mothers. Black women consistently remain at the bottom on all breastfeeding indices, although the gap between black mothers and other ethnic groups has narrowed by a few percentage points since 2000, suggesting breastfeeding promotion efforts have helped.

So there you have it: SIDS [less asphyxiation] is essentially caused by smoking or having your child around smoke, and not breastfeeding. 

So if we don’t know this, how is the SIDS rate been on the decline for years? Because we identified the main factors associated with it. Our safe sleep campaigns reduced the asphyxiation deaths. No one will argue that. But the other side of SIDS is decreasing too. Here’s why: smoking is on the decline. Overall, fewer people are smoking, and those that are smoking are smoking less. And, more people are breastfeeding. And they’re breastfeeding longer.

Theory: Mothers who breastfeed while smoking actually add some sort of immunization to their milk to help their babies in the less than ideal environment. Continuing, smoking causes SIDS, but more specifically smoking and not breastfeeding. 

There’s one more loose end here. Baby boys get SIDS significantly more often than girls. If the deaths are caused by smoking and not breastfeeding, how could one sex be affected more than the other? Here’s why:

  • Boys mature slower physically, socially and linguistically.
  • Stress-regulating brain circuitries mature more slowly in boys prenatally, perinatally and postnatally.
  • Boys are affected more negatively by early environmental stress, inside and outside the womb, than are girls. Girls have more built-in mechanisms that foster resiliency against stress.

So if SIDS is solved, what can I do to eliminate the risk to my baby.

  1. Safe Sleeping. I know we eliminated this from the list of SIDS causes, but it is still something we need to practice. It has saved baby’s lives.
  2. Stop smoking. Do not smoke or have your young children around smoke. No tobacco, no marijuana.
  3. Breastfeed. Smoking or not smoking, you need to breastfeed. Even if it’s supplementary. And most importantly, if you smoke, you must breastfeed. If someone in your family or that is around your child frequently smokes, you must breastfeed. The baby simply isn’t equipped to deal with the strain that the smoke puts on her body. Especially without your help.


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