September 9, 2004
New research suggests that protein may play a role in sudden infant death syndrome. Two crib deaths in Milwaukee were linked to a virus.
Piece by piece, researchers appear to be unraveling SIDS, or at least explaining a greater number of the tragic deaths.
In Arizona, SIDS remains the leading cause of death among infants between 1 month and 1 year old, though the death rate has dropped by 50 percent in the past five years.
SIDS is the ruling out of everything else. The declining SIDS rate is generally attributed to a combination of public education regarding risk factors, medical advancements and more careful investigation by police, emergency room doctors and pathologists. Many deaths that previously might have been ruled SIDS are now attributed to a variety of causes.
Babies who sleep on their stomachs are more likely to die of SIDS than babies who sleep on their backs. Of the 263 Arizona babies who died of SIDS between 1995 and 2000, only 38 were found on their backs. Breast-fed babies also are less likely to die of SIDS.
It is most common between 2 months and 4 months, during colder months, in premature babies and in boys. Other risk factors include babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy or had no or late prenatal care. Passive smoke in the household also increases the baby’s risk of SIDS.
Susan Thiede’s second child, Jacob, was a happy, healthy 3-month-old who had none of these risk factors. Still, he stopped breathing one day in June 1997.
"As a nurse, I was fully aware how to prevent SIDS. And it still happened to me," said Thiede of Mesa.
Through her job, Thiede educates as many women as possible about the need for prenatal care, regular baby checkups and putting babies to sleep on their backs. But she shudders at the knowledge that some people don’t.
"To do the opposite," she said, "you just put your baby at risk."
A study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that women with high levels of a protein linked to stillbirths and birth defects were nearly three times as likely to have a baby die of SIDS. A separate finding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a connection between a newly discovered virus and the crib deaths of two Wisconsin infants.
For more information
• The Arizona SIDS Foundation, (602) 433-7437; www.azsidf.org on the Web. Meetings are 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at Hospice of the Valley, 1510 E. Flower St., Phoenix.
• MISS, Mothers in Sympathy and Support, East Valley chapter coordinator Le Ann Morlan, (480) 963-9844. For parents who have lost a child from any cause.
To prevent flat heads
The decrease in SIDS has led to a fivefold increase in plagiocephaly, a flat spot where the baby’s head rests against the mattress. Although it’s almost always temporary, to prevent it:
• Make sure your baby gets supervised tummy time during the day to strengthen his neck muscles. And try to minimize the amount of time he’s in a car seat, bouncy seat, stroller or carrier.
• Babies naturally turn their heads to look at the room, rather than the wall. To entice your baby to turn his head the other way, attach a crib toy or picture to the wall side. Or try putting your baby down with his feet facing the opposite direction.
To decrease the risk
• Put babies to sleep on their backs. However, babies who have respiratory disease, gastro-esophageal reflux or upper airway malformations should not lie on their backs. Call your doctor if you’re unsure.
• Don’t smoke during pregnancy and don’t allow smoking around your baby.
• Breast-feed your baby.
• Get prenatal care for yourself and regular checkups for baby.
• Use firm, flat bedding and keep toys and pillows out of the crib.
• Dress your baby lightly, avoid overheating. Dress your baby as you would dress yourself.