By: Brittany Wright, B.A
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a very serious issue that new parents must learn about. SIDS is one of the top 3 leading causes of death in infants and according to the Center for Diseases Control (CDC) in 2016, 3,600 infant deaths were the result of sudden unexpected infant death.
In comparison to the millions of healthy babies born each year in the U.S. that number may not seem startling, but what is startling is the fact that most of the babies that fall victim to SIDS are Black babies.
I learned about SIDS during my first prenatal appointment two years ago. The nurse practitioner gave me a pamphlet about SIDS and the proper sleeping habits of infants. She also offered to answer any questions I may have had. Perhaps it was the words “sudden” and “death” that lead to this, but I began to fear SIDS as an invisible monster that could take my child at any moment for no reason at all.
Unfortunately, some of the infant deaths that occur within the first few months are random and unavoidable, but that’s not always the case. With education and implementing safe parenting practices, you can put your fear of SIDS to rest. In honor of SIDS Awareness month, let’s take some time to educate ourselves and fight to reduce the rates of SIDS in the Black community.
What is SIDS?
In a nutshell, SIDS is the unexplained, sudden death during sleep of an infant that is less than a year old. Often times the baby is seemingly health and normal leading up to the death which makes the tragedy that much more traumatic and unexpected. There are several medical and environmental factors that contribute to SIDS.
According to Mayo Clinic, premature or low birth weight babies face a higher risk along with infants with brain defects and those who have recently suffered from a cold or respiratory infection. All of these things can affect how the baby regulates their breathing. Environmental factors that contribute to SIDS include sleep position, clothing, and crib safety, which we’ll detail later.
The rates of SIDS deaths in the USA has dropped dramatically in the past 20 years due to the ‘back to sleep’ campaign, which advocated for parents to put their babies on their back to sleep. Even with the strides we have made as a country to combat SIDS, Black infants are still much more likely to die from SIDS than white or Hispanic babies.
SIDS and the Black community
The reason for the high SIDS rates in our community is not narrowed down to one or two specific reasons but a group of intersecting issues our community faces. Education may be the biggest factor in our downfall with SIDS.
Many young parents in our community do not have access to pre-and-postnatal care, which is where most mothers will learn about SIDS and proper sleep practices. Our community also has lower rates of breastfeeding than our Hispanic and white counterparts.
According to many reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and La Leche League, breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life drastically reduces the risk of SIDS. But, like prenatal care, there is a lack of resources and information for young mothers about breastfeeding, which can be quite difficult, contributing to our low numbers. Not only do Black families have to deal with the same medical or physical factors that contribute to SIDS as other races, but socioeconomic factors as well.
What you should be doing to avoid tragedy
Even with the uphill battle that we face there is no reason to feel defeated. There are things we can do to improve our SIDS numbers and avoid tragedy in our own homes.
1. Crib safety
Make sure your baby has a clean, flat surface to sleep on. This should be free of blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. Cribs can get expensive and can take up a lot of space. You can look into alternative options like getting a second-hand crib, the Baby Box program, or using a Pack ‘N Play instead of a crib.
2. Sleep position
Always place your child flat on their back to sleep. Placing your baby on their stomach can restrict their airflow and lead to suffocation. Babies who sleep on their backs are much less likely to die from SIDS, according to the CDC.
3. Co-sleeping/Bed sharing
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies sleep in their parents’ room, close to their bed for at least the first 6 months of life. Actual bed-sharing, although widespread in cultures outside of the Western world, is not recommended by sources like the AAP or CDC even though this behavior is natural to mothers and infants. When done safely, it can help with prolonged breastfeeding, mother-child bonding, and reduces the chances of SIDS
4. No smoking, period.
There should be absolutely no smoking around an infant. Babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke, while in the womb or second hand after birth, have a higher risk of SIDS. As infants are much more sensitive to cigarette smoke, inhaling it can seriously affect their respiratory health, among other things.
The lack of education and cultural stigmas surrounding breastfeeding in our community are the main reasons Black women tend to breastfeed less than other racial groups. Breastfeeding is shown to lower the risk of SIDS in young infants, among a host of other benefits. Resources like La Leche League and Black Women Do Breastfeed are great resources of information and support from fellow breastfeeding moms.
Even as a parent of multiple children or even a grandparent who has raised children of their own, it is good to do research and refresh yourself on things like safe sleep practices and SIDS. The world is constantly changing and things that parents and caregivers did as recently as 10 to 20 years ago have changed and improved to better the care we give to our little ones.
As you can see, a lot of what leads to SIDS is a lack of communication and education, so sharing posts like this and spreading this information to new, and young parents can literally save lives. Sometimes these tragedies just happen and that is unfortunate, but if there are things that we can do to save our families from the hurt of losing an innocent child, we should do everything we can.