I find much of the discussion surrounding SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) to be BS.

Take this case for example.
Though she [Melissa] felt anguished about leaving her baby for the first time, she also felt certain Jake was in good hands, and she resisted the impulse to check in. Rudy [Melissa's husband], also a physical therapist, didn't. He called the sitter three times, reporting to Melissa each time that the baby was just fine. He planned to pick up Jake at 3:30 p.m. Melissa hadn't heard from Rudy by 4 p.m., so she called his cell.

The instant she heard Rudy's voice, she knew something was wrong. "
So on the first day with this babysitter, an apparently healthy kid dies in an inexplicable way. What a coincidence! I can't imagine any explanation other than SIDS. Can you? But wait, there is more! It seems this medical phenomenon is not uncommon:
about 20 percent of all SIDS deaths occurred while the baby was in the care of someone other than a parent. One third of the infants died during the first week of childcare, and half those deaths occurred on the very first day.
The mystery deepens! Whatever could be the explanation? Science to the rescue:
"It may be that starting a new routine interrupts the baby's sleep cycle, so that when he finally does fall asleep, he sleeps too deeply,"
But of course! That must be it. Changing care disrupts the sleep cycle, and the kids literally sleep themselves to death! It all makes perfect sense, when you see it from a scientific perspective.
Spotting SIDS would seem fairly straightforward, but the truth is quite the opposite. ... The condition can be diagnosed only when a death has been carefully investigated -- including an autopsy, a study of the scene and circumstances of death, and an examination of the baby's medical history -- so that all other possibilities can be ruled out.
To whom, exactly, would spotting SIDS seem straightforward? SIDS is essentially medical jargon for "Beats Me!" SIDS has no positive identifying characteristics. It is merely the absence of observable cause.

An unexplained death of an infant would be a devastating blow to any parent. Most parents would do anything to try to avoid it. But presenting parents with a grab-bag of possible risk factors makes little sense to me. For example, how is "sleeping with a stuffed animal" going to cause SIDS? I can conceive of the remote possibility that a kid could suffocate under a stuffed animal, or could choke on it. But then that would be a suffocation or choking death, not a SIDS death. Is this just a modern version of the old wives' tale that cats steal babies' breath?

I am skeptical of the whole "back to sleep" movement too. The theory is that if you put a kid on his stomach, carbon dioxide can build up around the kid and suffocate it. When I was a kid, mothers were told not to put babies to sleep on their backs, for fear that they would choke if they happened to vomit. Which theory is a parent to believe? I've looked up the scientific studies for some of these claims, and was not very impressed.

New parents are inundated with lists of risks to their baby. Much of what is passed off as science is shaky at best. (Don't get me started on the topic of breastfeeding!). I would suggest that parents take this advice with a grain of salt and a heap of common sense.

As for SIDS, I say any childhood death should be investigated thoroughly. By all means, let's look for common causes. There is no downside to doing so. But it is wrong to assume that every unexplained crib death is in fact due to some such common medical cause.

Update: An interesting article and book.

Ann says: Our medical doctor sister believes most SIDS deaths have always been flat-out murder. Possibly overwhelmed care-givers who do the unthinkable.


Anonymous said...

Medical science, not surprisingly, has changed considerably over the years. So, it's perfectly understandable that although your mom might have put you to sleep on your stomach 40 years ago, the doctors advise you differently now. I don't see what your point is.

SteveBrooklineMA said...

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I still love you.