Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a heartbreaking and mysterious phenomenon that has puzzled medical professionals, parents, and caregivers for many years. As a family service agency, Koinonia holds space for the impact of this tragic occurrence on biological, foster, and adoptive families alike. Every October is SIDS Awareness Month, and in our continued effort to provide support and resources for families, we are sharing information about providing a safe environment for infants.
What is the Cause of Sudden Infant Death?
SIDS – often referred to as crib death or cot death – is the unexplained death of an otherwise healthy infant under one year of age, typically occurring during sleep. Since it can be incredibly hard to pinpoint a specific cause of death, and there are many factors at play, medical examiners and pathologists often refer to sudden infant deaths as SIDS. However, this is not truly accurate. Because it is such a gray area, 85% of all infant deaths that are ruled SIDS are believed to be due to asphyxiation (lack of oxygen).
While the exact cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome remains elusive, several risk factors have been identified:
- Sleep Environment: Babies placed to sleep on their stomachs or sides, sleeping on soft surfaces, or sharing a bed with adults are at higher risk.
- Maternal Smoking: Infants born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy or were exposed to secondhand smoke are more vulnerable.
- Premature Birth or Low Birth Weight: Babies born prematurely or with low birth weight are at increased risk.
- Family History: Babies with siblings or cousins who experienced SIDS are at a slightly higher risk.
SIDS and the Child Welfare System
The heightened risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome within the child welfare system is a matter of grave concern, and it is crucial to understand the contributing factors. Due to their challenging start in life, many infants in foster care face an increased risk of SIDS. This risk is often attributed to poor maternal health and prenatal conditions, such as exposure to substances and maternal stress hormones during pregnancy. Additionally, a significant number of infants in foster care are born prematurely, sometimes without adequate prenatal care, and often have underdeveloped respiratory systems, which further elevates their susceptibility to SIDS. Recognizing the importance of these factors, Koinonia has implemented stringent measures including the requirement for caregivers to hold infants under eight months of age during bottle feedings and avoid bottle propping. Furthermore, Koinonia actively encourages caregivers to prioritize their infant’s well-being by providing a secure sleeping environment for the infant within the caregiver’s bedroom.
How Can SIDS Be Prevented?
There is no guaranteed method to ensure your child is not a victim of SIDS. However, there are many ways to significantly reduce the risk.
- Back is Best: Place infants on their backs to sleep (including naps).
- Safe Sleep Surface: Put infants to sleep in their own crib or bassinet with a firm mattress that fits well with no extra bedding/pillows/quilts/soft toys in the area.
- Room Sharing: Share the same room as the infant for the first six months, while ensuring they sleep separately in their own crib/bassinet.
- Pacifiers or Breastfeeding: In cases where breastfeeding is not possible, offering a pacifier to your infant can greatly reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Temperature Regulation: Avoid “over bundling”, or dressing your baby in too many layers. Take off their hat while they sleep to prevent your infant from overheating.
Koinonia is committed to providing resources to foster parents and caregivers, which includes preventative information about SIDS. We’re here to help them navigate the emotional and practical challenges they may encounter through all stages of a child’s life. By doing so, we strive to shape a foster care landscape that offers safety, stability, and the love every child deserves.
Traci Turner, Contributor