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What Parents can do to Protect their Infants against SIDS

 

Human beings are born premature; they are not fully developed at birth.  Unlike other animals such as cats and dogs, which can walk within only a few weeks after birth, human beings cannot walk for nearly a year (or longer) after they are born.  Human beings take twelve to eighteen years to fully develop into adults.  Further, the human brain is developing all these years until they are an adult.  In addition to the long development process of the human brain, many muscles and organs are not fully developed at birth. Human beings cannot even turn over for several months after birth (sometimes up to 6 months). 

The premature birth and slow development of the human brain can lead to some problems.  Perhaps one of most feared of these problems is Sudden Infantile Death Syndrome (SIDS).

SIDS is the number 1 cause of death for infants one month to one year old, claiming nearly 2,500 lives per year in the United States.  SIDS occurs most frequently between the ages of two to four months,  and occurs more frequently in cold weather (in the winter months).

There are several factors that affect and can increase the occurrence of SIDS.  This article is about a theory about a possible cause of SIDS and what can be done to prevent it, or reduce the frequency of SIDS. 

The basic theory is that in a normal fully developed human brain, there is an emergency center (or centers) in the brain.  When a person is sleeping, and there is a reduction in the oxygen level to the brain below a critical oxygen level, the emergency center of the brain causes the person to awaken, even get up, and run if necessary (such as if there is a fire). In a baby, the brain and body is not developed enough for the baby to get up and run away.  However, a normally developed infant’s brain will cause the infant  to wake up and cry.  The crying should alert the infant’s parents to come and pick up the baby, hold the baby close to them, and carry the baby away to safety if necessary. 

In some infants, the emergency centers of their brains do not develop properly, or take longer to develop than normal, so the emergency center of these baby’s brains will not arouse them if there is a lack of oxygen to the brain.  Instead of emergency arousal and crying (for help), the lack of oxygen may lead to even reduced breathing, and reduced heartbeat.  This further reduction of air, bloodflow and oxygen to the brain may cause the baby to drift even further and further into unconsciousness, ultimately leading to death.

Based on Dr. Klein’s Fluid Model of the Mind Theory, the brain is not only a solid, but a liquid as well.  In fact, the brain is more than 70% liquid.  Hence, in addition to lack of oxygen, lack of liquids, or dehydration can also cause the brain to malfunction.  Dehydration also reduces saliva, which may be important in the arousal response.   Brain malfunction and saliva reduction can lead to SIDS.

Fortunately, there are several things a parent can do to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS.  This includes:

  •          Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding improves the infant’s health and normal development of their brain.  Breastfeeding has been found to significantly reduce  the occurrence of colds and flu.  Colds and flu can partially block the infant’s air passages, and reduce the oxygen to the infant’s brain,  which can be very dangerous.  Studies show that any breastfeeding reduces SIDS—one study showed that babies who breastfed had 1/5 the rate of SIDS compared to non-breastfed babies.  Since SIDS can occur in infants up to 12 months, breastfeeding is recommended for as long as possible up to 12 months.
  •          Prenatal vitamins.  It is recommended that the mother take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy.  The prenatal vitamins help the infant and the infant’s brain to develop in the womb. Prenatal vitamins along with a good diet may reduce the risk of premature birth.  Babies who are born prematurely are at a greater risk of SIDS.  It is also recommended that the mother take prenatal vitamins after the baby is born for the first year, so that during breastfeeding, some of the vitamins will go to the baby via the breastmilk, which will further help the baby’s brain to develop, and also reduce the occurrence of colds and flu.
  •          Plants in the baby’s room.  Plants add oxygen to the air, which is critical to the baby’s brain.  Plants also remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air.  Plants also add moisture to the air.  Moisture in the air helps the baby to breathe easier.  Place one, two or more plants in the baby’s room (and around the house). The more the better.
  •          The mother’s diet.  In addition to pre-natal  vitamins, the mother should eat a healthy diet because basically everything the mother eats will go to the baby in the breast milk.  The mother should drink a lot, so she doesn’t dehydrate, including plenty of milk, juice, water, electrolyte beverage (such as Gatorade).  Check with your pediatrician’s office for recommended diet each month for breastfeeding mothers. The mother should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (such as broccoli, which is high in magnesium), cheese, yogurt, or other foods high in calcium, bananas, potatoes, kiwi, or mango (foods high in potassium),  meat, fish, chicken, eggs (foods high in protein).  Stay away from “hot” or spicy foods, as these may upset the baby’s stomach.
  •          Keep the baby’s crib in the same room as the parents. So, if the baby cries at night, or if you notice any irregular breathing of the baby at night, you are there to immediately check the baby and pick it up if necessary.  Studies have shown that babies who sleep in a crib that is placed in the parent’s room have a lower frequency of SIDS.
  •          The baby’s diet. In addition to breast milk, the baby will need other liquids, such as water, juice, or an electrolyte beverage (such as pedialyte).  As the baby grows, it will also need some baby food.  Check with or pediatrician, or their on-call nurse, what baby foods the baby should eat each month as it grows. 
  •          Add moisture to the baby’s room. Use a humidifier, vaporizer, spray water, or Leave water in a pan or bowl in the baby’s room.  SIDS is most frequent in the winter months.  The average home in the winter is dryer than the Sahara desert.  The dryness of the air in the winter can lead to more colds and flu, and otherwise make it harder to breathe, which reduces the oxygen to the infant’s brain.  Increasing the humidity or moisture in the air helps the baby to breathe easier and reduces the occurrence of colds and flu.
  •          Firm baby mattress.  Do not place the baby to sleep on a pillow, waterbed, sheepskin, chair, couch, stuffed animals, or other soft surface. The baby should sleep in its own crib on a firm mattress, primarily because most adult mattresses are too soft.  A baby can sink in a soft mattress, pillow, or other soft surface and easily block or partially block the tiny air passages of the baby’s nose with disastrous results. Babies who sleep on a soft bedding have 5 times greater risk of SIDS.  Do not use bumper pads in the baby’s crib.  Bumper pads are a potential risk of suffocation and strangulation. 
  •          Put the baby to sleep on their back.  Baby should sleep on their back—never face down on their stomach.  Babies who sleep on their tummies have 5 times greater risk of SIDS.  When a baby sleeps on its stomach, the air passages are more easily blocked, and air movement around the baby’s mouth and nose may be impaired.  This can cause the baby to rebreathe carbon dioxide that the baby has just exhaled.  The facedown position also reduces the arousal response when there is a lack of oxygen. Hence, place the baby on its back to sleep.  Since the “back to sleep” program initiated by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 1992, the rate of SIDS has dropped by more than 50%.
  •          Clean the air in the baby’s room.  You can use an air cleaner, such as one with a HEPA filter.  You can also vacuum regularly if the room is carpeted, or sweep and mop it, it there is a tile or wood floor in the baby’s room.  You can also spray the air with water (by filling a spray bottle with water and spraying around the room).  The water mist acts like rain to clean the air and also moisturize it.  The air in the baby’s room should be clean and well-ventilated.  Using a fan to circulate the air in the baby’s room was associated with a 72% lower risk of SIDS.
  •          Do not smoke in the house, especially do not smoke in the baby’s room.  Preferably, mothers should quit smoking while she is pregnant and at least the baby’s first year of life.  Research shows that babies from mothers  who smoke during pregnancy have 3 times greater risk of SIDS. Babies who breathe secondhand smoke in the house have 2.5 times greater risk of SIDS.
  •          Do not drink alcohol, smoke, or take drugs during pregnancy.  Smoking, drinking, or taking drugs during pregnancy can affects the baby’s development, including brain development.  Research has shown that smoking, drinking, or taking drugs (especially cocaine, heroin) significantly increases the risk of SIDS. 
  •          Keep the room temperature in the baby’s room  comfortable—not too hot or too cold.  Too hot will cause the baby to sweat, thereby losing liquids.  Too cold can weaken the baby’s immune system, leading to colds and flu.
  •          Don’t use excessive clothes or bedding on the baby.  This can cause the baby to overheat and sweat, leading to loss of liquids. Overheating and loss of liquids can impair brain function, increasing the frequency of SIDS.