Nothing grips the heart of any parent like the whiff of a suggestion of losing your baby, that your baby may not wake from a sleep, a victim of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS or as it is becoming known, sudden unexpected deaths in infants or SUDI).
Each year, 3500 families experience the loss of a child – through stillbirth or in the neonatal period (first 28 days of life), through unexpected death in infancy and childhood, or by accident. We here at SAHM are all mums and this subject was especially hard to discuss, but we felt it was important to look at the statistics in Australia, to reassure parents that there are things that they can control and reduce the risk of this happening, and to offer comfort and support if this terrible event has touched your family.
If this death is a sudden and unexpected thing, it is a heartbreaking and earth shattering event. But what are the chances that the tragedy of SIDS will strike you? If you’re one to find solace and comfort in statistics, here are some for you.
Keep in mind that SIDS/SUDI is what is left over once everything else is excluded, so there is very little that you can do to avoid it.
Around 10 children under 4 die unexpectedly each day. A terrifying number regardless of whether you’re a new parent or have older children; 10 a day is 10 too many to consider! Some of these are stillbirths (babies that die after 20 weeks gestation, are over 400g in weight and before or during birth) and for every 130 women who are pregnant, 1 will lose their baby. Put another way, less than 3 stillbirths occur for every 1000 live births, so the chances of this happening are low.
By definition, SIDS/SUDI affects babies older than 1 month and younger than 12 months, so the risks decrease around this age. So much is unknown about the causes that it is, in fact, hard to say how many babies die each year. Between 90 and 120 babies are said to have died from SIDS each year which is around 1 in every 2000 babies born each year. So the chances of this happening are lower again than the risk of a pregnancy loss after 20 weeks, or a stillbirth.
There are a number of alleged causes of SIDS and ideas that people hold onto as they search for answers, perhaps because the causes are never definitively known. If there was an answer for a death, it wouldn’t be labelled as a “SIDS/SUDI death” but rather due to prematurity, infection, or an accident. There used to be suggestions of it being because of parental neglect, or accidental smothering or choking but these things are rarely found to be the reasons. More boys than girls die, but it’s a roughly 60:40 split so it’s not a big difference. Babies who are breastfed are taken as do those fed with bottles and with formula; babies die in cots, in bassinets, in prams and car seats; babies die with parents, grandparents, babysitters, child care providers and other family.
But as SIDS and Kids say: “It is important to understand that no blame can or should be attached to anyone and to remember that, at this time, SIDS cannot be predicted and that the causes of SIDS are not yet known.”
Reducing the Risk
There are parental choices that are known to increase the risk of SIDS so take charge and reduce the risks for you and your baby. Smoking, drinking and illicit drug use during pregnancy are known to markedly increase the risk of SIDS; reducing exposure of your baby to smoking before conception, before birth and in infancy gives them a better start to life.
Poor prenatal care can lead to infections, preterm birth and low birth weight, all factors that increase the risk of SIDS. Antenatal care is generally free to access in some form to the vast majority of women in Australia and it reduces the risk of stillbirth and SUDI.
Once baby is here and home with you, the biggest three things are: avoiding any tobacco smoke around the baby (both first and second hand smoke); avoiding overheating the baby when asleep; and not letting the baby sleep on their stomach. It is also recommended to use a new, aired mattress, not have anything (bumpers, toys, mobiles, extra clothes or blankets) in the cot; tuck baby in at the bottom of the cot and have the cot in the room with the parents.
The short version of the Safe Sleeping guidelines are:
1. Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side
2. Sleep baby with head and face uncovered
3. Keep baby smoke free before birth and after
4. Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day
5. Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months
6. Breastfeed baby
More information about how to make up a cot safely, how to safely wrap a baby and how to do tummy time can be found here.
SIDS and Kids
We are blessed in Australia to have SIDS and Kids, who do world-class research and publications on this topic and offer support for any parent suffering the loss of a child at any stage through pregnancy or life. SIDS and Kids offers support for everyone touched by the sudden and expected loss of a baby or child through peer support, annual memorial services and a free national 24 hour support line. It is estimated that more than 50 people are affected for each death, and the support offered by this and other resources are invaluable. SIDS and Kids raises funds through Red Nose Day each year in June.
Your local state Parent Helpline or Parentline
In each state, the department of child health have a parenting helpline. The Parentline initiative is a collaboration between Boystown and KidsHelpline and offers free support for parents and others caring for children. The focus is on the family and nurturing relationships between them.
Parentline QLD & NT
Phone: 1300 30 1300 (cost of a local call)
8am to 10pm, seven days a week
Phone: 13 22 89 (cost of a local call)
8am to Midnight, 7 days a week.
Phone: 1300 364 100 (cost of a local call)
24 hours a day, seven days a week
Phone: 1300 1300 52 (cost of a local call)
9am to 9pm Monday – Friday
4pm to 9pm Saturday and Sunday
Phone: (08) 6279 1200 or 1800 654 432 (free for STD callers)
24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Phone: (02) 6287 3833 (cost of a local call)
Phone: 1300 808 178 (cost of a local call)
(1800 882 436)
This is a free service, available by phone or online, that provides free confidential counselling to women and their families about all things about this time of life – from conception through pregnancy and birth and into the postnatal period.
(Post and Antenatal Depression Association) (1300 726 306)
You do not need to have a diagnosis to call PANDA –Partners, families and friends can call and be offered support from counsellors, many who have suffered depression as well..
(Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support) (1300 072 637)
Phone calls to SANDS are answered by parent supporters – other people who have experienced the loss of a baby and have been trained to support other bereaved parents.